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

Gardner shows out, Cougs cannot overcome early deficit, lose to No. 18 Utah

Cougs play final regular season game of season at noon Saturday
Kyra Gardner shoots form the corner as Oregon’s Grace Vanslooten closes out, Feb. 25, in Pullman, Wash.

In fewer than three minutes, the No. 18 Utah Utes had sank four 3-pointers on their home floor to take a commanding 14-2 lead.

WSU women’s basketball (17-13, 6-11 Pac-12), still clinging to hopes of a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, could not keep up with No. 18 Utah (21-8, 11-6).

The Cougs are 2-7 since losing star senior guard Charlisse Leger-Walker to an ACL injury during their upset of then-No. 2 UCLA in Pauley Pavillon.

In Leger-Walker’s absence, they have turned to sophomore Astera Tuhina and freshman Eleonora Villa to start on a regular basis and for in-state underclassmen, sophomore Krya Gardner and freshman Jenna Villa to step into larger roles.

The mountain schools were the first to come to Pullman after Leger-Walker’s injury. WSU held fourth-quarter leads versus CU and Utah in Pullman but lost both contests.

In Salt Lake City, the Cougars were not as successful. They fell under a teretial downpour of 3-pointers and never once held the lead.

Bella Murekatete’s layup put the Cougs on the board and brought them within one of the Utah lead. The senior center paced the Cougs in scoring with 14 points on a 6-for-8 clip.

The Utes broke Eleonora’s 13-game double-figure scoring streak. It was not for lack of trying on her part, as the freshman from Lissone, Italy took 17 shots and made four of them. With no free throws and a 0-for-6 clip from beyond the arc, Eleonora scored 8 points with four assists, two rebounds and a steal.

Utah jumped out to a 14-2 lead with 7:12 remaining in the first quarter. Reining Pac-12 Player of the Year Alisia Pili, got the Utes on the board with a 3-point shot.

Pilli was her typically dominant self with a double-double. The senior from Alaska scored 21 points on a 9-for-15 clip, three 3-pointers, 12 rebounds, three assists and two blocks.

Kennedy McQueen paced the Utes with 22 points and four 3-pointers.

Utah expanded its lead to 25-10 after the first quarter.

The Cougars jumpstarted the second quarter with an 6-0 run courtesy of a Gardner jumper, Jessica Clarke layup and two Bea free throws to bring the game within 9 points.

Utah got two baskets for every Coug basket for the next four minutes to push its lead to 16.

Then, junior guard Tara Wallack took matters into her own hands with a personal 8-0 run, which included consecutive 3-pointers.

Tuhina added a layup to make it a 10-0 Cougar run and bring the game within 6 points. Utah closed out the quarter on a 7-2 run to lead 45-34 at the half.

Utah outscored WSU 21-10 in the third quarter to take a 22-point lead.

The fourth quarter contained a final stand for WSU that just was not big enough.

The Cougars outscored Utah 23-16.

Gardner took over with 9 points and two 3-pointers, two rebounds, an assist and a steal to finish the game with a career-high 13 points on a 50% night from the floor.

The sophomore from Raymond figures to take a larger role next season, but could see that come to fruition as the Cougs close out the 2024 season with some sort of postseason opportunity.

“When I think of our young players, I think they can get better. I think they can be more consistent,” Ethridge said in her mid-week press conference.

That is exactly what happened with Gardner.

Gardner’s efforts were not enough as the Cougs lost to a ranked Utah Ute squad 82-67.

This is no consolation for the future when it comes to Murekatete and Bea. Two fifth-year seniors who will be out of college basketball eligibility when the final whistle sounds on WSU’s season.

Ethridge said she sees a lot more potential for Murekatete and Bea.

That should come as no surprise as Mukreatete played exceptionally the last two weeks of the season to guide WSU to its first Pac-12 Tournament Championship. 

“Bella, this time a year ago, put together the best two-week period of her career. Patience in the post,” Ethridge said. “A lot of stop-start and explosiveness. We need her to trust her game and trust her her experience and scoring in the low block with people on her back.”

Bea is the second-leading scorer in program history at Idaho women’s basketball. Ethridge said she has the opportunity to score more.

“She needs to get her back to the basket a little bit more, you know, she kind of hangs out on the perimeter and gives way to some of our bigger players,” Ethridge said.

WSU faces No. 13 Colorado on senior day at noon Saturday before heading to the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas.

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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.