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

No. 23 WSU meets Maryland for Thanksgiving morning match in Cancun

Maryland Elite Eight team last year, suffered two top 10 losses in young season
No.+23+WSU+meets+Maryland+for+Thanksgiving+morning+match+in+Cancun
COLE QUINN

On Thanksgiving, the Cougs have a chance to give Cougar nation a lot to be thankful for. The No. 23 WSU women’s basketball team challenges the previously-ranked Maryland Terrapins in the opening game of the Cancun Challenge at the Hard Rock Hotel Riviera Maya.

Although the once No. 14 Terrapins have fallen out of the AP’s Top 25, they are still a respected team receiving 48 votes in this week’s poll, the most of any unranked team. 

Maryland is effectively the No. 26 team in the nation and an Elite Eight squad from last year that returns six of their top eight scorers. The Cougs will have their hands full in an early season test that figures to be their biggest game of the year so far.

With a .710 (1,108-452) all-time record through 53 seasons, Maryland is the 11th-winningest program in college women’s basketball.

WSU is responsible for one of those wins and one of those losses. The Cougs beat Maryland 70-64, Nov. 29, 2014 in Puerto Rico and lost 79-69 to Maryland  Nov. 26, 2017 in Las Vegas.

Coaches that leave no leftovers

Brenda Frese, The two-time coach of the year has led Maryland to the NCAA Tournament in 19 of her 21 seasons at the helm, including each of the last 13 tournaments. She won the 2006 National Championship as one of the game’s premier head coaches.

In her sixth year on the Palouse, Ethridge rejuvenated a historically underachieving WSU program and has led the Cougs to three straight NCAA Tournaments and the Pac-12 Championship through impeccable recruiting, record-shattering performances and a dedicated and uplifting team culture.

Ethridge said she is proud of the culture WSU has, but believes the team needs to be tougher.

“We got to be tougher,” Ethridge said. “We need to be great defensively. We need to be scrappy on the boards. And you know, we can’t depend on just Charlisse and just our starters to be that stable.”

Maryland

Junior Shyanne Sellers leads the team with 20.3 points per game at a 45% shooting clip. In both of Maryland’s losses, Sellers showed up against top-ten opponents. The player with her name on the Nancy Lieberman Award Watch List, reserved for the best point guard in the country, scored 21 and 16 points against No. 6 South Carolina and No. 8 UConn respectively. Maryland lost to South Carolina by 38 points and to UConn by 32 points.

Lavender Briggs averages 6.3 rebounds per game in her second season with Maryland after spending her first three seasons with the Flordia Gators. 

Maryland shot 40% versus South Carolina and 25% versus UConn, Maryland has struggled with their offensive all year. Even against Harvard and Syracuse, they could not shoot more than 43.9% and shot 34% versus Harvard.

Both offenses have left numerous points on the floor, although Maryland dealt themselves two daunting opponents to begin the season.

WSU

WSU is 5-0, coming off a blowout 81-43 win against Prairie View A&M, Sunday but has left more points than they would like on the floor. WSU lost a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to Gonzaga at home as the Zags forced overtime. The Cougs buckled down and got the overtime win, but the missed bunnies and wide-open threes that rimmed out ultimately haunted them.

Charlisse Leger-Walker has had an inconsistent shooting start to the season but continues to set the standard in defense and in manufacturing creative offensive opportunities for her teammates. She has paced the Cougs in plus/minus in several games. Her early shooting woes are something Ethrige belives will disappear in time as in previous seasons.

All-Pac-12 center Bella Murekatete has found herself in foul trouble in several games to start the year but has also led the Cougars in scoring in three of WSU’s first five games.

The duo has clicked as a major factor in the fact that 52% of WSU’s offense through five games (190 of 361 points) have been paint points.

This is and will need to be a key for the Cougs.

Bunnies on Thanksgiving!? Gotta have them

WSU cannot afford to miss bunny baskets in the paint. When Leger-Walker is connecting with Murekatete, Beyonce Bea, Tara Wallack and the gang in the paint, the Cougs do very well.

WSU also needs a big game from Leger-Walker. Although they pride themselves on their depth and ability to spread the ball around the floor, it took a 26-point effort from Leger-Walker to defeat Gonzaga and a similar effort should be expected from the kid from Waikato, New Zealand on Thanksgiving against No. 26 Maryland.

Of course, she will not be alone. Astera Tuhina has proven to be the natural heir to the offensive leader thrown. The sophomore from Kosovo takes after Leger-Walker in manufacturing creative offensive opportunities for her and her teammates and possesses an effective 3-point shot and a mid-range fader that Ethridge said “is hard to find” from anyone else in the game today.

The Cougs also need their newcomers to come up big. Bea, the Idaho graduate transfer from Washougal, has delivered for Wazzu. She averages 7.8 points per game and leads the team with 8.2 rebounds per game. 

Kid’s Table can and needs to arrive ready to play

Freshman Eleonora Villa has stepped up with a solid 9.2 points per game and a team-leading 1.6 steals per game. She brings a floater and 3-point shot opponents do well to respect.

Fellow freshman Jenna Villa and Alex Covill have had their moments, with Jenna Villa’s 3-point shot looking strong out of the gate before coming back down to Earth and Covill’s blocking prowess as a 6-foot-6 center showing up for the Cougs in the form of a team-leading 2.8 blocks per game.

It is the first extended road trip for the freshmen. Thursday morning’s game will be an excellent test of how they have handled their Thanksgiving break work trip to Mexico. 

Can Wallack cook up a win?

Perhaps the most underrated X-factor for the Cougs will be Wallack. The junior guard from South Surrey has played in the margins throughout her WSU career. She usually pops off against smaller schools and when her teammates are in foul trouble, thus opening up the opportunity and necessity of her play.

With Murekatete and Leger-Walker in foul trouble / being contained by Flordia Gulf Coast in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Wallack scored 16 points and grabbed 12 boards.

Against Gonzaga in a similar situation, she grabbed nine rebounds.

Wallack shows up when her teammates are otherwise unable to, but if she can show off some of those numbers, or at least attract the Turpins’ attention throughout the game, the Cougs will be in better shape.

And we’ll get to see more T-time celebrations when she drains 3-pointers. Wallack introduced this celebration during the Cougars’ Idaho State win, when she made a three and sat down on the court pretending to sip tea. While the pilgrims may have fled England, they were not in their descendants’ tea-throwing phase yet, something Wallack can hopefully celebrate on the court this Thanksgiving.

Turkey Day Toss-up

The Cougs flew directly from Texas to Mexico and have spent the last several days enjoying their Thanksgiving break from school in the sun while preparing for the weekend’s challenge.

Whoever makes their shots should win on Thursday. WSU and Maryland have both struggled in this area, but with a slew of talent on both sides, this is one game Coug fans will not want to miss.

WSU will play Maryland at 8 a.m. Thursday, UMass at 8 a.m. Friday and Green Bay at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. It will be WSU women’s basketball’s third all-time matchup with Maryland and their first meeting with UMass and Green Bay. 

Coug fans can get their Cougar basketball fix under the Thanksgiving breakfast table and save room for seconds and thirds on Friday and Saturday as each Cancun Challenge game will be broadcast on FloHoops.

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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.
COLE QUINN, Evergreen Sports Photographer
Cole Quinn is a photographer and columnist for the Daily Evergreen. Cole primarily shoots sports for the Daily Evergreen and writes album reviews in his spare time. Cole is a junior broadcast production major and sports communication minor from Snoqualmie, Washington. Cole started working for the Evergreen in the fall of 2020 as a photographer. Cole was the Photo Editor during his sophomore year and Deputy Photo Editor for the fall 2022 semester.