Looking back at a legendary WSU women’s basketball season

Cougars won Pac-12 Championship, most games in single season with 23



WSU women’s basketball team dances to “Man! I Feel Like A Woman!” by Shania Twain after winning an NCAA women’s basketball game against Oregon State, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023, in Pullman, Wash.

SAM TAYLOR, Evergreen sports co-editor

WSU women’s basketball saw its most successful season in program history come to an end Saturday in the first round of the 2023 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.

The Cougars lost to the Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles 74-63. Despite the thud of a game that the Cougar’s third consecutive first-round NCAA Tournament exit was, the accomplishments of the 2022–23 program should not be overlooked.

After all, the 2022–23 WSU women’s basketball team became not only the first in WSU women’s basketball history to win the Pac-12 Championship, but also the first of all WSU women’s sports to win the Conference title

The Cougars’ 19 regular season wins tied their win total from the previous season for the most regular season wins in program history.

WSU center Jessica Clarke looks for a pass during an NCAA basketball game against Oregon State, Feb. 19, 2023, in Pullman, Wash.

WSU soccer and volleyball have come close to winning the Pac-12, especially in recent years, but women’s basketball is the first program to reach the pinnacle of the Conference, in-part thanks to the Pac-12’s unique tournament structure for basketball.

Soccer and volleyball declare their Conference championships based solely on regular season performance whereas basketball uses the regular season place finishes to assign seeds in a tournament.

Despite WSU’s historic regular season, the Cougs were still only in seventh place in the Pac-12 and thus had to win four games if they wanted to win the Pac-12 Conference.

The four games the Cougs won in the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas elevated their all-time single-season win record to 23. They won three of those against teams in the AP Top 25, beating a top-five team No. 3 Utah, 66-58, No. 20 Colorado, 61-49 and No. 19 UCLA, 65-61.

The Cougs are the lowest seed (seventh) to not only win the Pac-12 Championship but make it to the finals in the first place.

On their way to a Pac-12 Championship, the Cougs recorded six wins over teams in the AP’s Top 25 poll and an early season win against an NCAA Tournament-bound team that was the biggest comeback in program history.

The Cougars beat the eventual West Coast Conference Champion University of Portland Dec. 7, 2022 in Portland, Oregon. They fell behind by as many as 19 points but 15 points from All-Pac-12 guard Charlisse Leger-Walker (11 of which came in the second half),  14 points from All-Pac-12 senior center Bella Murekatete and 12 points from All-Pac-12 freshman Astera Tuhina propelled the Cougs to victory.

Their first ranked win was a thrilling overtime win against then-No. 21 Oregon in Eugene, 85-84 (OT). It was head coach Kamie Ethridge’s first win over Oregon and the program’s first win against Oregon since 2017. Junior center Jessica Clarke played hero ball for the Cougs when she scored 6 points in overtime in her best performance of the season.

The Cougars beat then-No. 19 Arizona 70-59 and beat No. 17 UCLA, 62-55 for their first win in Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles.

The Cougars experienced unprecedented success thanks to Leger-Walker.

With Krystal Leger-Walker having gone pro, Charlisse Leger-Walker took further strides in her game to fill the shoes of her sister.

WSU guard Charlisse Leger-Walker dribbles the ball during an NCAA basketball game against Cal, Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023, in Pullman, Wash.

Charlisse’s 17.7 points per game were third-best in the Pac-12, and she was second in assists with 4.1 per game.

Her 76 points scored during the four games of the Pac-12 Tournament are a tournament record earning her the 2023 Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player Award.

Charlisse delivered countless memorable shots, most significant of all was her game-winning shot against Utah where with 39 seconds left, the Cougs put the ball in her hands.

All Utah could do was watch as Charlisse drained the clock to eight seconds and proceeded to sink the 3-pointer to put the Cougs up by 6 with what is likely the most iconic shot in program history.

“She deserved that moment more than anyone, and obviously she was able to deliver and we’re just super lucky she is on our team,” WSU senior Ula Motuga said moments after WSU upset Utah.

Murekatete dazzled in the post as an improved shooter and defender. She led the Cougs in blocks with 43 and rebounds with 237.

WSU center Bella Murekatete jumps for a layup during an NCAA women’s basketball game against LMU, Nov. 7.

“When [Murekatete] smiles the room lights up. When she enters the room there’s a big presence. She’s really engaging, she’s got great chemistry with our team,” Ethridge said. “She’s playful, she smiles easy, she laughs at herself easy. She’s got a great sense of humor.”

This season, Charlisse Leger-Walker and Murekatete each surpassed 1,000 career points.

WSU center Bella Murekatete goes up for a shot against Oregon center Phillipina Kyei during an NCAA women’s basketball game against Oregon, Friday, Feb. 17, 2023, in Pullman, Wash.

Fifth-year Motuga in her final year at WSU stepped up as a leader for the Cougs. She provided critical defense all season having her talents particularly praised when she contained Alissa Pili — the Pac-12’s leading scorer at 21 points per game — to 11 points in the Cougar’s Pac-12 quarterfinals win over Utah. Only 5 of her points came from the floor.

Tuhina stepped up for the Cougs during Charlisse’s absence. Although the Cougs never won a game without Charlisse, going 0-4, against Pac-12 competition, Tuhina’s talents kept the Cougs in each game they played including losses to ranked and Sweet 16-bound Utah, Colorado and UCLA.

WSU guard Astera Tuhina passes the ball during an NCAA basketball game against Cal, Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023, in Pullman, Wash.

“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.

Tara Wallack took new strides as a starter with an excellent 3-point shot and Johanna Teder’s 3-pointer was its typically impressive shot. Clarke’s baskets kept the Cougs in any game they played.

The Cougar’s bench included seniors Grace Sarver and Emma Nankervis and freshmen Kyra Gardner and Lauren Glazier, who each provided essential contributions that kept the Cougs winning.

Even the programs in the Sweet 16 would love to have a season like WSU, including the three teams the Cougs beat on their way to the Pac-12 Tournament (Utah, Colorado and UCLA) who are still playing for a national title.

That said, the Coug’s next step is to win an NCAA Tournament game and advance in the big dance.

“Obviously, very, very hungry to come back and help this team get past that first round. Obviously the last three years we haven’t managed to do that,” Charlisse said after losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

The WSU women’s basketball team sings “Man! I Feel Like A Woman” by Shania Twain while celebrating a 67-57 victory over Oregon State, Feb. 19, 2023, in Pullman, Wash.

The history of Ethridge’s rise from a bottom-three Pac-12 program to Conference Champion will nonetheless be told for the rest of time. After all, the Cougs gained a famous fan in Shania Twain after she reposted a video of the team signing her iconic song “Man! I feel like a woman.”

The story of the Cougars Pac-12 Championship season will be told through postgame karaoke, tons of fun Tik Toks and countless memories and highlight-reel moments.

WSU guard Johanna Teder and WSU guard Charlisse Leger-Walker pose with trading cards of themselves during a post game autograph session after an NCAA basketball game against Cal, Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023, in Pullman, Wash.

It was a phenomenal season, but the Cougs still chase that elusive NCAA Tournament win and run. Wazzu will be back.