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

Wazzu wins without Leger-Walker for first time behind Wallack’s career day

Wallack scores career-high 23, WSU beats ASU 73-46
WSU guard Tara Wallack looks for a pass during an NCAA women’s basketball game against Arizona, Jan. 21, 2024, in Pullman, Wash.

For the first time since Charlisse Leger-Walker joined WSU women’s basketball, the Cougs won a game without her on the floor.

Following Friday’s disheartening 19-point loss to Arizona, the Cougars were 0-9 the last two years without Leger-Walker.

Leger-Walker missed four games in 2023 and suffered a season-ending ACL injury Jan. 28.

WSU held late leads against ranked Colorado, Utah and Stanford in Pullman over the last two weeks, but trailed for a majority of the time versus California in Pullman and Arizona in Tuscon the last two Fridays.

But on Sunday, the Cougs proved they were still better than last place in the Pac-12 by a 27-point margin.

WSU (16-11, 5-9 Pac-12) beat ASU (11-15, 3-11) 73-46 behind Tara Wallack’s career-high 23 points, Eleonora Villa’s 17 and Beyonce Bea’s second double-double of the season.

Tara provided the Arizona tea with a career-high 23 points to boost the Cougs past the Sun Devils.

Tea time featured an 8-for-15 clip with three 3-pointers to go along with four rebounds, three assists and a block.

“Tara was fantastic, her scoring, her making threes,” Ethridge said on her radio post-game show.

Freshman Eleonora Villa has scored in double figures in 11 consecutive games. Sunday’s game was her 20th total double-figure game, equaling Leger-Walker’s 20 double-figure games for the most in program history.

The freshman from Italy scored 17 points with five rebounds, four assists and two steals.

If it was not for USC’s JuJu Watkins’ spectacular freshman season, WSU freshman Eleonora Villa would be a clear contender for Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and she will most likely qualify for the final All-Pac-12 Freshman team and potentially an All-Pac-12 selection.

Senior center Bella Murekatete found herself on both sides of the box score to begin the game. Murekatete missed a jumper on WSU’s opening possession, had the ball stolen from her before she stole the ball back from ASU and blocked and rebounded the ball, all on four consecutive possessions.

Murekatete scored 4 points but tallied 12 rebounds, three blocks and three steals.

Wallack posted the first points of the day to give WSU a 2-0 lead following Murekatete’s first rebound. WSU did not lose the lead, although ASU did tie the game in the second quarter.

Wallack began her career day with a personal 5-0 run. Freshman Jena Villa hit a triple from the left wing to complete an 8-0 opening WSU run.

Jalyn Brown hit a layup to put the Sun Devils on the board. Brown scored 10 points and collected seven rebounds while being contained to a 25% clip from the floor thanks in large part to Wallack’s lock-down defense.

The Sun Devils’ 13-7 run in the second quarter tied the game at 21 before Eleonora Villa put together a 5-0 run to enter the break with a 3-pointer and jumper.

In the third quarter, fifth-year transfer Beyonce Bea collected 6 points and five rebounds (three offensive) to help the Cougars stay ahead of ASU. Bea turned in her second double-double of the session with 11 points and 13 rebounds, two assists a block and a steal.

The Sun Devils were as close as 2 points with 3:17 to go in the third quarter before Wallack sank her third triple of the day and Bea made another layup to push the Cougar lead to seven.

Eleonora Villa scored 7 points in the fourth quarter. Wallack sank a free throw with 4:01 to go to put the Cougars up 58-43 and clinch her new career high.

With 5:47 left in the game, sophomore Astera Tuhina let a buzzer-beating 3-point attempt fly. The ball fell short of the basket but Wallack was aware, grabbing the ball shortly below the basket and putting the ball up and in to give WSU its largest lead of the day, 55-43.

Tuhina scored 8 points and tallied four rebounds and five assists.

Sophomore Krya Gardner of Raymond, Washington might have overheard WSU alumna and Pac-12 broadcaster Cindy Brunson. Brunson said on the broadcast that Gardner needed to learn defense to be a constant feature of the Cougar lineup because her shooting was already excellent. As soon as she said that, Gardner denied a Sun Devil shot much to the delight of Brunson and her broadcast partner. In six minutes on the floor, Gardner scored 2, grabbed two rebounds and blocked a shot.

WSU out-scored ASU 27-7 in the fourth quarter to put the game away. A decent showing of Cougs turned out to Tempe to cheer Wazzu on to its first win since the upset of No. 2 UCLA Jan. 28.

“I’m just glad we showed up for them,” Ethridge said

Ethridge said she was happy her team showed up with a level of effort necessary to win.

The Cougs showed up in ranked match ups such as Colorado and Stanford and almost won but failed to show up in games they could have won versus Cal and Arizona.

“I just have to be so mean to ‘em to get them to like focus and get locked in,” Ethridge said.

WSU is 1-9 over the last two seasons without Leger-Walker and will need to win more without her if they want to qualify for a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament. Three of WSU’s final four opponents are ranked teams as the Pac-12 remains the most contentious women’s basketball league in college basketball.

“I don’t think what you do today matters, I think what you do Friday matters,” Ethridge said. “We hadn’t played well enough, we hadn’t competed well enough, we hadn’t demanded as much as we needed to out of ourselves at times.”

WSU will host No. 11 Oregon State for Fan Appreciation Night at 7 p.m. Friday and will recognize an extraordinary senior class, responsible for three consecutive NCAA Tournament berths and a Pac-12 Championship at noon Sunday versus Oregon at Beasley Coliseum.

Fans can turnout to Pullman to grab a Charlisse Leger-Walker bobblehead, Friday. Watching the game in Pullman may be easier than watching it on TV as both contests will be broadcast by Pac-12 Oregon.

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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.