The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

Cougs conquer Cal Poly in 78-61 season opening win

Murekatete paces Cougs with 18 points, freshman Jenna Villa hits four threes
Bella Murekatete rises for a layup attempt in the second half against Cal Poly, Nov. 6, in Pullman, Wash.

Coug fans might have held their breath if they glanced at the box score at halftime as the Cougs trailed their season-opening opponents 34-31.

But those who saw the final score might not have known that the Cougs trailed for any portion of the game, or that star senior Charlisse Leger-Walker missed her first seven shots and only posted 6 points.

After all, it did not matter as No. 24 WSU women’s basketball (1-0) secured a 78-61 season-opening win over the Cal Poly Mustangs (0-1).

The Cougs started fast as they spread the ball around the floor. On their first possession, Leger-Walker found the ball in her hands from behind the 3-point line. She passed the ball inside to junior Tara Wallack who went up for the shot under the rim to force a foul. Coug fans could add Wallack’s name to their trivia prep as the player who scored the first points of the Cougars’ 2023–24 season. 

Tara Wallack fights for possession of a loose ball with a Cal Poly player, Nov. 6, in Pullman, Wash.

Cal Poly started fast too as they scored on nine of ther first 15 possessions.

After 10 minutes of basketball, Cal Poly led WSU 23-17.

Natalia Ackerman scored six of her 12 points in the span of 71 seconds as she made two free throws and two layups. Ackerman was the only Mustang to score in double digits while five Cougs hit the double-digit mark, something which WSU head coach Kamie Ethridge said was a preseason goal of hers.

“I mean, they were hitting like almost every shot so that’s one thing,” graduate transfer Beyonce Bea said.

The Cougar defense was fundamentally sound throughout the game, but it mattered very little early on as Cal Poly shot a startling 64.3% in the first quarter.

Cal Poly could not maintain their breakneck pace as they fell back down to Earth, shooting around 30% for each of the remaining quarters. 

“I thought we got more sound and keeping them out of the lane and they became a little more human and missed a few shots,” Ethridge said.

WSU head coach Kamie Ethridge looks on as her team takes down Cal Poly in the season opener, Nov. 6, in Pullman, Wash.

The Cougar offense went punch for punch with the Mustangs in the first half but fell behind as three starters, Leger-Walker, Bella Murekatete and Wallack went a combined 1-for-12 with just Murekatete making a shot.

Murekatete and Wallack committed two personal fouls apiece, limiting their on-court time.

In the second half, Murekatete seemed to settle in as she was perfect (6-for-6) from the floor. The fifth-year center finished the night with 18 points (7-for-10) to go along with seven rebounds, two blocks an assist and a steal.

The Mustangs held All-Pac-12 senior Charlisse Leger-Walker scoreless in the first half as she went 0-for-6 from the floor. However, her impact was felt in other ways as her four rebounds and four assists in the first half provided plenty of scoring opportunities for her teammates.

“I call her Charlisse ‘Legend’-Walker,’” Murekatete said. “She’s able to like affect other parts of the game. In terms of like passing, rebounding, telling people where to go and helping them on defense. Things you don’t really see on the sheet.”

Ethridge echoed Murekatete in calling Leger-Walker a coach on the floor.

“She just is such a complete player. And, you know, I think her impact on the defensive end you know, kind of got us going a little bit she just ends up getting a little tougher on the ball and making things difficult for the other team,” Ethridge said.

Leger-Walker finished with a plus-minus of 17 thanks to her nine assists, eight rebounds and three steals to compensate for a 6-point 2-for-10 shooting day.

WSU Guard Charlisse Leger-Walker dribbles the ball down the court while Cal Poly’s guard Sydney Bourland closely follows at the NCAA women’s basketball game, Nov 6th, 2023.

Her floor direction made the most of Bea’s presence as the Idaho graduate transfer from Washougal, Washington scored 11 points with nine rebounds and five blocks.

“The offense that we run just really gets everyone involved, which is fun. Like I said, five different people in double figures,” Bea said. 

Freshman Jenna Villa showed out in her official introduction to Pullman. The Arlington, Washington native scored all 12 of her points via threes. That’s right, four of them for those keeping score at home.

“Love [Villa’s] minutes. I think she’s given us everything she can and again, she’s been really solid for us, you know, all summer long on the international trips, and all fall and obviously, we have a lot of confidence,” Ethridge said.

Astera Tuhina may not be at the top of the stat sheet, but the sophomore put together a 10-point day with three threes, posing another great threat from deep for the Cougs.

WSU center Alex Covill gears up to pass the ball to guard Astera Tuhina during an NCAA women’s basketball game against Cal Poly, Nov. 6, 2023, in Pullman, Wash.

Freshman Elonaera Villa and Alex Covill made their WSU and collegiate debuts and scored their first collegiate points, tallying 6 and 4 points respectively.

After battling an injury in the preseason, sophomore Krya Gardner found her way onto the court late in the game.

Kyra Gardner talking with a coach near the end of the a game against Cal Poly, Nov. 6, in Pullman, Wash.

On a night when fellow Pac-12 school No. 20 Colorado dethroned the reigning National Champions and No. 1-ranked LSU 92-78 in Las Vegas’s T-Mobile Arena, Cal Poly exposed the shortcomings the Cougs needed to see to improve and compete in a Pac-12 Conference in which six schools are ranked.

“I was really impressed with Cal Poly. They made some really hard shots. And I think it’s just going to be a great opportunity for us to watch the film and get better,” Ethridge said.

WSU will raise the Pac-12 Championship banner and receive their championship rings prior to their 7 p.m. Thursday game against Gonzaga, a contest with particular regional relevance.

“It’s good for us to play Top 10, Top 15, Top 25 teams,” Ethridge said. “We need to challenge ourselves.”

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About the Contributors
SAM TAYLOR, Evergreen sports co-editor
Sam is a senior multimedia journalism major from Lacey, Washington and the sports editor for spring 2024. He was the sports editor for the 2022-23 school year and managing editor for the summer and fall 2023. He plays the trumpet in the Cougar Marching Band, loves sports and has worked at the Evergreen since fall 2021.
BRANDON WILLMAN, Multimedia editor
Brandon Willman is a junior multimedia journalism student from Vancouver, Washington. He started working as a sportswriter for the Daily Evergreen in Fall 2022 and worked as copy editor in spring 2023. Brandon was elected to be the Editor-in-chief starting in summer 2023 and served in the position from May 2023 to February 2024 before transitioning to the role of multimedia editor. He enjoys watching sports, backpacking, and watching horror movies.
EMMA DECASA, Evergreen photographer
Emma Decasa is a photographer for the Daily Evergreen. Originally from Issaquah, Washington, she is a junior majoring in Advertising, with a minor in Sports Communication. Emma started working for the Daily Evergreen in the fall of 2023.