Cougars to duel Devils, clash with Wildcats in Arizona

WSU women’s basketball plays ASU at 5 p.m. Friday, Arizona, 11 a.m. Sunday



The WSU women’s basketball team celebrates a 3-pointer during an NCAA basketball game against UCLA, Jan. 22.

SAM TAYLOR, Evergreen sports editor

Losing the first five of eight Pac-12 games is not how most Cougar fans saw this season going for a WSU women’s basketball team in search of its third consecutive NCAA Tournament bid.

Unfortunately, things far more important than basketball have led Charlisse Leger-Walker to miss four games. She missed the Utah and Colorado games Dec. 31, 2022 and Jan. 2 before missing the last two games Friday and Sunday because she was back in New Zealand for a family matter.

Leger-Walker is among the best players in the Pac-12 Conference and elevates her teammates. However, the Cougs (13-6, 3-5) need to win one without her and have proven that they are close to doing that.

“It gives us a lot of hope as a coaching staff. I think the team feels a lot of confidence in the versatility of our team, the depth of our team and knowing that our bench is playing better,” head coach Kamie Ethridge said in her Wednesday press conference. “We can’t depend on just one player. We can’t depend on just one or two. We really gotta have balance across our scoring.”

Freshman guard Astera Tuhina has stepped up in Leger-Walker’s absence.

Against some of the toughest defenses in the country (Utah, USC and UCLA) the freshman from Kosovo orchestrated a Cougar offense that found bursts of success. She set a career-high Sunday against the Bruins with 15 points.

The Cougs’ four-game road winning streak is the program’s longest road winning streak since the 1995–96 season. The Cougars will seek to push that record to six over the weekend and will do so against a team that is winless in Pac-12 play and against a top-25 team.

The Arizona State Sun Devils (7-12, 0-8 Pac-12) are still searching for their first conference win.

The Sun Devils rank in the bottom quarter of the Pac-12 in points per game. Their 68.1 points per game mark are only better than top 25 hopeful USC (65.6) and Washington (63.1).

USC has ridden their elite defense to the win of the year thus far against No. 3 Stanford. It also helped them dismantle the Cougar attack san-Leger-Walker Friday.

UW failed to contain Leger-Walker in Seattle (She scored a career-high 40 points Dec. 11 and 26 points in Pullman Jan. 8).

ASU is the only team in the conference with a sub-40 field goal percentage (36.7%)

Junior guard Tyi Skinner runs the show in Tempe, Arizona. The junior guard is third in the Pac-12 with 19.8 points per game despite shooting only about 36% from the field. She is also second in the conference in made 3-pointers per game with 2.6.

No. 19 Arizona is one of the approximately six other teams that earned a ranking in the AP’s top 25 making this the third straight and fourth out of five Pac-12 weekends in which the Cougs have faced a ranked in-conference opponent.

A win over the Wildcats would further construct the Cougar women’s status as a top-tier team ready for the spotlight.

Two weeks ago in Oregon, Jessica Clarke played against Oregon with 6 points in overtime. Clarke stepped up against UCLA providing valuable rest for Bella Murekatete the second-leading scorer on the team.

The Wildcats do not have a single player in the top five of the Pac-12 Conference offensive categories, but they are the fourth-best scoring offense with 78.3 points per game and third in field goal percentage with 45.8%. The Wildcats also sport the fourth-best point differential with +15.1.

The Wildcats are an efficient team with Esmery Martinez fifth in the conference in rebounds per game (8.7) and Helena Pueyo and Shaina Pellington are first and fifth respectively in steals per game (2.6 and 1.9).

Arizona has won notable games against then-ranked teams Baylor and Oregon but lost to No. 9 Utah and No. 3 Stanford.

The Cougs will duel the Sun Devils of Arizona State at 5 p.m. Friday at the Desert Financial Arena in Tempe and will wage war on the Wildcats of Arizona at 11 a.m. Sunday at McKale Center in Tucson, Arizona.