Cougs host Dawgs with star guard potentially absent

Leger-Walker remains out of country, Cougs host Apple Cup 12 p.m. Sunday



WSU guard Astera Tuhina dribbles toward the hoop during an NCAA women’s basketball game against Montana, Dec. 2.

SAM TAYLOR, Evergreen sports co-editor

Each of Charlisse Leger-Walker’s 40 points was not enough to defeat Wazzu’s cross-state rival in the Cougs’ 82-66 Apple Cup loss Dec. 11 in Seattle. With the Pullman edition of the Apple Cup happening at noon Sunday, Leger-Walker may not be in Pullman.

Because of a family issue, Leger-Walker has been in her home country New Zealand since late last week. She missed WSU’s last two games which the team lost 72-66 to undefeated Utah and 65-54 to the upstart Colorado Buffaloes.

As of noon Thursday, Leger-Walker remains day-to-day and may miss the game, head coach Kamie Ethridge said.

“When we get Charlisse back, I know we’re going to be a better team,” Ethridge said in her Thursday press conference. “Over the course of the season, not having her for this period is gonna spur us into becoming the team that I think we can become.”

WSU women’s basketball (10-4, 0-3 Pac-12) will host University of Washington (9-4, 1-2 Pac-12) at noon Sunday at Beasley Coliseum.

In Leger-Walker’s absence, Astera Tuhina has stepped into the official starting role although she was playing about 30 minutes per game already off of the bench.

Ethridge is impressed by Tuhina’s aggressiveness and competitiveness

Her ability to direct the offense helped Wazzu close the gap against Utah.

Eyes are on Tara Wallack in her second year on the Palouse. When Wallack is at her best, she can be counted on for a double-digit performance even scoring as much as 20 points earlier this year at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. She scored 8 and 13 points respectively in the last two games and made some key plays such as a steal on Utah’s end of the floor which translated into fast break points for Bella Murekatete.

WSU lost the Seattle edition of the Apple Cup 82-66, with Leger-Walker scoring a career-high 40 points. Prior to December’s loss, WSU had not lost to UW in two years, riding a four-game win streak. WSU has an all-time record of 28-75 against UW.

The Pac-12 is among the best conferences for women’s basketball. It is home to five ranked teams in the top 25 (No. 2 Stanford, No. 8 Utah, No. 12 UCLA, No. 15 Arizona and No. 18 Oregon).

WSU and UW join Colorado, California, USC and Oregon State as teams with nine or more wins vying to break into the top 25 and into the NCAA Tournament. Colorado and WSU earned tournament bids in 2022.

UW is coming off of a winless weekend against the mountain schools. They lost to Colorado Friday 64-56 and held Utah to a season-low 61 points but still lost 61-53.

UW is a well-rounded team with a knack for rebounding. The Huskies rank third in the Pac-12 Conference with 42.6 rebounds per game whereas WSU is last in the Pac with only 36 rebounds per game.

The Huskies are particularly great at offensive rebounding, ranking second in the conference with 15.8 offensive rebounds per game.

Haley Van Dyke helped the Huskies excel as she is seventh in Pac-12 in offensive rebounds with 54.

When Wazzu was particularly poor at rebounding against Colorado, one Coug was visibly attempting to remedy that.

Senior Ula Motuga had eight rebounds and ranks second on the team with 82 total.

Murekatete leads WSU and is in the top 10 in the Pac with 107 rebounds.

Murekatete stepped up and led WSU in scoring in Leger-Walker’s absence. She scored 20 and 15 points respectively in the last two games.

UW’s leading scorer is Seattle native Dalayah Daniels (11.8 points per game). In December, Daniels scored 12 points against Wazzu as one of five Huskies to score in double digits. Van Dyke, the next-highest scorer for UW (9.1 points per game) scored 10 points in the Apple Cup.

Lauren Schwartz paced the Huskies with 21 points against the Cougs. Five of her seven successful shots were 3-pointers as she only missed one three.

The Cougs have not played to their potential in any Conference game this season, Ethridge said.

“Sometimes it has to do with competitiveness and playing hard and I don’t know that we played as hard as Colorado did in the last game and that was a real disappointment for our team,” Ethridge said.

If the Cougs are to win on Sunday, they can not allow UW to put on another 3-point clinic and need to control the paint by grabbing rebounds.  They will need to put each other in positions to take ideal shots.

They will also need a decent showing from Coug nation. With classes beginning the day after the game, Ethridge is confident that students and fans will show up to support the Cougs in one of the biggest games of the year, the Apple Cup.

“We gotta make this a real hostile environment. Need every Coug fan, need a lot of passion in the gym and I think you’re going to be proud of how we play this weekend,” Ethridge said.

The Cougs host the Huskies in the Apple Cup at noon Sunday at Beasley Coliseum. The game will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Network.