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

‘A privilege to be able to watch your team this time of year,’ WSU women host Toledo in WBIT

WSU hosts Toledo at 6 p.m. Thursday in Beasley
WSU center Bella Murekatete celebrates “tea time” during an NCAA women’s basketball game against Arizona, Jan. 21, 2024, in Pullman, Wash.

It’s late March and the Cougs are still playing basketball.

Better yet, Wazzu has one more home game.

At 6 p.m. Thursday night, No. 1 seed WSU women’s basketball (20-14) will welcome No. 2 seed Toledo (28-5) to Pullman for the quarterfinals of the inaugural Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament. The winner will travel to Indianapolis, Indiana for the semifinals at the Hinkle Fieldhouse.

“We deserve to play in March and yeah, just another opportunity to showcase what our team has to prove,” junior guard Tara Wallack said.

In a year in which WSU men’s basketball won 25 games and saw crowds north of 8,000 in the last week of the regular season, attendance for women’s games has remained noticeably stagnant, with around 1,000 people in attendance for much of the season.

WSU women’s basketball’s highest-attended game was a Feb. 23 contest with Oregon State which saw over 1,800 people in attendance for Charlisse Leger-Walker bobblehead day

Head coach Kamie Ethridge said the ability to host postseason games is a great opportunity for the team to spend more practice time together and for younger players to improve.

“I keep saying it, we’re missing the student section, ZZU CRU, I just think it needs to be a priority to get people out on Thursday night at six o’clock. And so that we have a real home court advantage,” Ethridge said.

There are a slew of excuses one could make for not attending Thursday’s game. It’s MLB Opening Day and the Mariners play at 7:10 p.m. There is one month left in the semester and homework, projects and finals are looming. Sweet 16 games are on TV.

But all of those excuses shatter compared to the excuse members of the WSU men’s basketball team had to not go to Sunday’s women’s game and yet, they went anyway.

Less than 15 hours after the team had gotten off the plane from Omaha, Nebraska after losing in the round of 32, almost a third of the roster, including Myles Rice, Jaylen Wells and Isaiah Watts showed up to Beasley to root for their friends and fellow Cougs.

After sophomore guard Astera Tuhina, sunk back-to-back 3-pointers, Rice, Wells and Watts were on their feet, throwing their hands in the air in disbelief.

“We love that especially, after their loss when they showed up to motivate us and to like support us. That means a lot to us, especially knowing that they made it so far and they did so good during this season,” Tuhina said. “I hope we’ll see them again this Thursday.”

Beyond the merit of supporting women’s sports, a historic group of Cougs play their final game in Beasley.

“We’re so lucky to be able to have this tournament,” senior center Bella Murekatete said. “It’s a privilege to be able to watch your team this time of year.”

Thursday will be Murekatete’s final home game. After five years at WSU, she holds the program records in rebounds (972), blocks (188), games played (151) and games started (143). The Cougs are considered by the NCAA as one of the best teams not in March Madness based on their status as a No. 1 seed in the newly formed, NCAA-sponsored WBIT, a tournament for the best 32 teams not in the NCAA Tournament.

With a 15-6 start to the year which included upsets of Sweet 16-bound Gonzaga and UCLA, the reigning Pac-12 Champions seemed destined for a fourth straight NCAA Tournament trip. But when star senior Charlisse Leger-Walker suffered a season-ending ACL injury, the Cougs went  3-8 down the stretch and lost in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas.

However, the Cougs fit a road upset of then No. 13 and Sweet 16-bound Colorado into their post-Leger-Walker schedule and proved they could compete and win against the best conference in women’s basketball without their leader on the court.

The fact that the Cougs were not selected for March Madness made the team frustrated, Murekatete said and in two WBIT games, the Cougs have translated that disappointment into two resounding victories, 66-46 over Lamar, March 21 and 73-47 over Santa Clara, Sunday capped off by a blazing 30-point fourth quarter.

Ethridge said she takes pride in the fact that the Cougs have held postseason opponents to the 40s, and have benefited on the other end of the floor with explosive offense.

Wallack, Tuhina and freshman Eleonora Villa have stepped up for the Cougs with double-figure performances, making an even deeper postseason run a real possibility.

But the Cougs cannot do it alone. Wazzu has seen sub-1,000-person crowds for both of their WBIT games, but with the men’s basketball season over, one more trip to Beasley should be at the top of Cougs minds come Thursday.

“There’s not a lot of teams that are playing at this time in March. I think it’s a great opportunity for us,” Tuhina said. “It means a lot to us when we see Beasley packed. It helps us and motivates us. I think everyone should be there especially because it’s our last game of the season. And we just need their help,” Tuhina said.

It has been a tough week for Coug fans, with men’s basketball coach Kyle Smith taking an opportunity with Stanford and Athletic Director Pat Chun taking the reigns at Washington, but the chance to advance in the inaugural WBIT should be a rallying point for Coug fans.

“It’s the last chance for this community to get out and support, you know, the basketball program. You know, we’re still playing. No, there’s not very many teams still playing, you know, and no, it’s not the NCAA Tournament, but it’s a unique experience because, like we said, we’re the number one seed. We’ve earned the right to host and we just need our community to come out and just get this place rockin,” Ethridge said.

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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.

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  • tim mellin....Murrow Comm....72Mar 27, 2024 at 10:02 pm

    They should try putting some of the women’s games in Bohler gym, for a real thrust of adrenalin and Cougar spirit. Much better use of the space and better encouragement to the ladies…and a better recruiting tool.