Freshman fill-in or phenom, meet Astera Tuhina

The growing legacy of Astera Tuhina

WSU+guard+Astera+Tuhina+dribbles+the+ball+during+a+NCAA+basketball+game+against+USC%2C+Jan+20th.

JULIAN CABALLERO

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

LUKE WESTFALL, Evergreen reporter

Thrust into the spotlight once again, WSU freshman guard Astera Tuhina took the reigns and excelled Friday night against Southern California.

The Cougars fell to 0-3 on the season when missing their top dog Charlisse Leger-Walker, but the absence of present-day stars opens doors for future ones. But being thrown into the fire as a freshman expected to cover for one of the best players in all of college basketball is no easy feat.

“The weight of the world is dumped on her when Charlisse isn’t on the floor,” coach Kamie Ethridge said. “I would tell her, ‘welcome to Charlisse’ world.’”

While Tuhina has been a key piece of the puzzle all season, she has excelled when playing up in the absence of Leger-Walker, shooting 55.6% and 60% against Utah and Colorado and posting her second-highest career point total of 13 vs USC. It was also the most she’s scored in conference play.

While what Tuhina did Friday was extremely impressive, it’s even more so considering it was her first full game back since a pre-game ankle injury held her out three games prior to a short nine-minute appearance against Oregon. Coming off essentially an 18-day break from her full 30 or so minutes of play, Tuhina played 39 minutes vs USC.

It’s easy to see the potential in her as a scorer and a ball handler. She has improved leaps and bounds for a freshman, Ethridge said.

“I think she’s adjusted to the game, I think she’s picked up our offense and knows what she needs to do and has the skills to do almost anything. She kept us in it offensively,” Ethridge said.

Of course, Tuhina can’t do it all. She needs more help around her. She wants to be perfect, but it was a hard team they faced, Ethridge said.

“I think these should be confidence boosters for her so when a great player comes back on the court, she can really not feel so much pressure to be perfect,” Ethridge said.

Adding onto the impressiveness of the performance is the level of the opponent. Ethridge said this is probably a team and a level of athleticism she has never seen. Not only is USC 14-4, but they hold the fifth-best opposing field goal percentage in Division-I women’s basketball at only 33.3%.

“It’s a hard team, they’re really good at speeding you up and confusing you a little bit and then you have a shot. So you pick it up and now you’re in trouble. You don’t think you have a shot when you really did and now you’re dribbling all over the place and now you’ve over-dribbled,” Ethridge said. “So that’s all the things a good defensive team does to a point guard, but I don’t think I can complain about her game and her growth and what she’ll be for us.”

Considering that Tuhina played the second-most minutes of her college career against the fifth-best defense in the country, shot 46.2% from the field, scored the second-most points of her career and got only her second-ever block with only one turnover, it seems she did more than her part Friday night.

Following one of the strongest stretches of her career Tuhina took that momentum into the weekend to post a new career-high 15 points vs No. 8 UCLA Sunday. She shot 55.6% from the field in 37 minutes despite the Cougars falling to the Bruins.

Time and time again against great teams with great defenses, she continues to ascend the ranks of elite young guards in today’s college game. In fact, UCLA holds the 47th-best opposing field goal percentage and fourth-best in the Pac-12 at 36.9%. It appears no matter the opponent, Tuhina will continue to prove herself to college basketball fans, coaches and analysts alike.

Leger-Walker is the lifeblood of this team, but Tuhina has more than proven that when Leger-Walker’s reign comes to an end, she’ll be ready to take command.

The next game they play will be 5 p.m. on Friday against Arizona State.