Cougars cannot deceive Trojans, lose 51-44

Down Leger-Walker, Cougars look disorganized



WSU guard Astera Tuhina shoots the ball during a NCAA basketball game against USC, Jan 20th.

SAM TAYLOR, Evergreen sports co-editor

Astera Tuhina sprinted down the court, trying to create an offensive opportunity with her team down by 5 points and under three minutes remaining in the game. Moments earlier, Tuhina had taken a Trojan turnover tipped into her hands by Johanna Teder and delivered a textbook assist to Teder to bring the Cougars within 5 points after an 8-0 scoring run.

This time around, everything the Cougars tried the Trojans countered. After what ultimately became a grand game of keep-away, all the Cougars could do was attempt a highly contested shot at the buzzer.

Wazzu remained down by 5, and all seemed lost.

Until Tara Wallack saw through the Trojan’s horse-like four-legged deception, stealing the ball between two players on her way to the basket. With WSU down by 5, this open layup would surely give the Cougars’ their most momentum of the night and create a one-score game. All they needed was the ball to go through the hoop.

All they needed was the ball to go through the hoop. What a pesky little detail.

With the Trojans riding like the wind behind her, Wallack certainly felt the pressure and rushed her shot. It bounced off the rim before falling back into the hands of Southern California.

All night, WSU women’s basketball (13-5, 3-4 Pac-12) played an incomplete game in which they simply could not find a way to beat the USC Trojans (14-4, 4-3 Pac-12).

WSU forward Ula Motuga makes her entrance before a NCAA basketball game against USC, Jan 20th.

Both teams shot under 37% and committed a combined 37 turnovers.

The Cougs were once again without Charlisse Leger-Walker as she returned to New Zealand because of a family matter.

When Leger-Walker was absent during the Utah, Colorado weekend, the Cougs found themselves down by as much as 20 against a then-undefeated Utah Ute squad.

However, the Cougs, led by Bella Murekatete and Tuhina, clawed right back into the game, forcing several ties in the final minutes but never taking the lead. Utah came away with the win, but the effort of a shorthanded Cougar squad was admirable.

Against Colorado, the team lacked the energy or competitiveness to win.

The third incarnation of a Leger-Walker-less squad was somewhere in between the team’s Utah and Colorado performances.

The Cougars began the game by turning over the ball on each of their first four possessions. The Trojans came out of the gate with a lot of energy. Okako Adika and Rayah Marshall committed the first three of their collective four steals within the first 1:15 of the game. Adika would only make one more steal in the game as part of the Trojans’ seven total.

These turnovers proved to be costly for the Cougs as they usually do. USC scored 17 of their 51 points off of turnovers.

The Cougs did not lead after halftime, but they played a tougher brand of defense and created a sudden spark of offense that put them right back in the game.

The Cougs opted for speed, choosing to play smaller players such as Grace Sarver who is 5 feet 8 inches.

Sarver was a force for the Cougs as she led the team in steals and assists with three apiece.

“I get the exact same thing every single day Grace walks into the gym. She’s consistent, she’s a hard worker, she knows the Scout, you never have to talk about effort with her. She’s everything you want your program to be on and off the court,” head coach Kamie Ethridge said.

WSU guard Grace Sarver dribbles the ball against USC guard Taylor Bigby during a NCAA basketball game against USC, Jan 20th.

With Leger-Walker absent, Tuhina stepped up into a starting role similar to what she did against Utah and Colorado. Although the team’s offensive execution was far from ideal, Tuhina engineered several key scores including finding Wallack for a deceive 3-point shot late in the fourth quarter.

Tuhina scored 13 points (one off from her career high of 14) and provided three rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block.

“I think she’s growing leaps and bounds for a freshman,” Ethridge said. “I don’t think I can complain about her game and her growth and what she’ll be for us the rest of the year.”

WSU guard Astera Tuhina dribbles the ball during a NCAA basketball game against USC, Jan 20th.

Despite Tuhina’s best efforts, the Cougar attack appeared sloppy and disorganized.

“I would tell her “welcome to Charlisse’s world, sometimes, not enough around her,” Ethridge said.

Teder, who averages 33% from beyond the arch, was 1-for-7 (14%) from three. Teder could have selected better shots, as several were blocked, Ethridge said.

WSU guard Johanna Teder dribbles the ball during a NCAA basketball game against USC, Jan 20th.

However, the team as a whole could do a better job of screening to set up successful threes, Ethridge said.

Murekatete scored 10 points, her sixth straight game in the double digits, and Ula Motuga snagged seven rebounds.

Ethridge expects WSU to be without Leger-Walker again on Sunday when they face UCLA.

WSU will host No. 9 UCLA at noon, Sunday at Beasley Coliseum.