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

Murekatete’s final game in Beasley one to remember, WSU women’s hoops wins 63-61

Murekatete game winner sends WSU to Indianapolis
Bella Murekatete shoots from the top of the key to the Cougs a lead in the waning seconds of the game, March 29, in Pullman, Wash.

With the game on the line and 4.8 seconds left in regulation, there was one player head coach Kamie Ethridge had in mind to take the final shot.

Bella Murekatete.

Although she had never been in that position before, it was only right for the Cougars’ fifth-year center to find the ball in her hands from 17 feet out. It was equally right for Murekatete’s shot to fall through the nylon, Beasley to get about as loud as it had been all year for the WSU women and for Toledo’s last-second attempt to tie the game to rattle off the rim thanks in part to Murekatete’s effort on the other end of the floor.

“Coach E just drew all that up and I just had to make sure to make the shot,” Murekatete said.

Playing in her program record 152nd game, Murekatete found herself in a game-winning shot situation she had not found herself in before.

“I’ve coached Bella five years and I’ve never set up a play for her to take the last shot,” Ethridge said.

Murekatete’s make and defense on the other end of the floor locked in WSU’s (21-14) 63-61 win over Toledo (28-6).

The Cougars’ 21st win of the season ensured WSU a ticket to Indianapolis, Indiana for the semifinals of the inaugural Women’s Basketball Invitation Tournament.

Bella Murekatete is all smiles after hitting the game-winning shot to take down Toledo, March 29, in Pullman, Wash.

While the in-game situation was fresh, the shot itself was nothing new for the Cougars’ longest-tenured player.

Ethridge said Murekatete has spent plenty of time in the gym, practicing 17-foot shots.

Murekatete’s moment would not have been as sweet if fellow fifth-year senior Beyonce Bea of Washagaul, Washington had not sunk the game-tying shot from the left wing on the prior possession.

“Yeah, actually I was pretty calm,” Bea said. “You know, once the game is that tight and time’s running down, you kind of know that those types of shots are going to need to be made.”

Beyonce Bea shoots a mid-range jumper, March 29, in Pullman, Wash.

Bea spent four years at Idaho, where she became the second-leading scorer in program history, but she never made the postseason. Bea has stepped up on the biggest college basketball stage she has had turning in three double-figure rebound performances in each of the first three games of the tournament.

The Cougs and Rockets kept on each other’s heels from the start. Freshman Eleonora Villa hit a three on Wazzu’s opening possession and Toledo’s Quinesha Lockett returned the favor. The score remained 3-3 for nearly 90 seconds.

Later in the first, Eleonora Villa drove under the basket and found a wide-open freshman center Alex Covill. Covill sunk the jumper, her 6-foot-7 height putting her seemingly at eye level with the basket.

The Cougs kept their foot on the gas to match Toledo’s intensity, as the Rockets made themselves known in the paint. Toledo won the paint battle, offensively with 34 points in the paint to WSU’s 22.

Midway through the first quarter, the Cougs appeared disjointed as several passes in a span of several minutes fell off the tips of sophomore Astera Tuhina’s fingers and Wazzu’s shooting percentage dipped to 36%. Despite the mistakes, the Cougs still led 12-10 with about two minutes remaining in the quarter.

Tuhina capitalized off of Toledo’s lacking transition D by heaving the ball halfway down the court to freshman Jenna Villa in stride who put the rock up and off the glass to give the Cougs a 16-12 lead in the first.

Jenna Villa gets ready to run onto the court after WSU gets a defensive stop, March 29, in Pullman, Wash.

Toledo did not take its foot off the gas at the end of the quarter as Khera Goss sank a buzzer-beater to make it a two-point game after 10 minutes.

Junior Tara Wallack stepped up for the Cougs with 14 points on a 6-for-12 clip. Wallack dazzled, particularly in the second quarter with her back to the basket as she looked to her left, looked to her right and put the shot up and and in. Wallack also impressed with several impressive drives to the basket and a block of a would-be Toledo three.

Wallack sank a three with 3:01 left in the first half to put the Cougs up by two.

The Rockets shot at least 50% in each of the final three quarters after shooting 33% in the first.

Sammi Mikonowicz took over with 18 points and just two misses from the floor (8-for-10). Hannah Noveroske kept the Rockets post-game grounded while Toledo’s guards cleared five 3-pointers for liftoff, on par with Wazzu’s five 3-pointers.

Despite Toledo’s clear advantage in the paint (34-22) and points off turnovers (12-4), WSU hung around thanks to an all-around efficient shooting night and a commitment to the defensive plan.

WSU outscored Toledo in three out of four quarters, but the Rockets’ six-point advantage in the second quarter (20-14) and WSU’s difference per quarter being two leading up to the last 4.8 seconds, meant Murekatete’s finals shot would decide the game.

Eight Cougs scored in the victory with freshman Eleonora Villa once again pacing Wazzu with 15 points (5-for-9) and threes with two.

“We have great guards that are capable of making crazy shots as you can see,” Murekatete said.

Eloenora Villa attacks the lane from the left corner, March 29, in Pullman, Wash.

Toledo closed the second quarter with a 5-0 run and opened the third with a 6-0 run thanks to a Sophia Wiard and-one and Mikonowicz 3-point shot.

About 70 seconds into the second half, WSU trailed by 10 points.

Ethridge said her team responded accordingly to the hole they dug for themselves and outplayed Toledo for the last 18-ish minutes of the game.

“That’s what you just love [about] the experience of the seniors that don’t want to be done playing,” Ethridge said.

It was fifth-year Murekatete who stepped up for the Cougs midway through the third, breaking the second-half WSU scoring drought with a commanding and-1, drawing a foul on her way to score and draining the free throw for a 3-point play the old-fashioned way.

She secured all three points before Mikonowicz drained another layup. Ele and Wallack made a jumper to cut the lead to 5, but it was Mikonowicz again who extended the Rockets’ ascension.

An Ele three and senior center Jessica Clarke layup later and the Cougs trailed by 2.

Mikonowicz scored 12 of her 18 points in the third quarter and continued to be a pesky astoriodi in the way of a smooth Cougar cruise to hyperspace.

Jenna Villa three gave the Cougs a 1-point lead, but a Mikonowicz three put the Rockets on top heading into the final 10 minutes.

The Cougs had arguably their worst offensive performance in the fourth quarter, making 6-of-17 shots and banking all seven 3-point attempts.

None of that mattered as the Cougs and Rockets entered the final quarter of the year at Beasley Coliseum. No team led by more than 4 points in the fourth.

Murekatete met a blue and yellow wall beneath the basket. she spun to her right and found the glass and nylon to cut the lead to 55-53, Toledo.

After a sequence in which the Cougs had four chances to score on the same possession but came up empty-handed.

As the minutes expired in Beasley, Wallack missed a shot Murekatete secured the board, drove to the basket, twisted around, shot and missed, grabbed her own rebound, tried again and missed, regained control yet again, and heaved it back to Ele who handed it back to Murekatete who found Wallack again for her second miss on the Wazzu’s four-shot possession. The Cougs came up empty-handed and down by four with 5:34 to play.

The Cougs’ final three shots each came from seniors playing their final game at Beasley. Clarke forced Beasley to take a collective breath and yelp of relief as her jumper put the Cougs down by 2.

With 48 seconds to play, Bea drained a shot from the left wing to tie the game 61-61 and with 4.8 seconds to play, Murekatete got her moment.

Ethridge said that Murekatete’s range of emotions, and her ability to control it, helped the Cougs come through.

“She’s great and the practice gym, she’s, she’s working out like crazy,” Ethridge said. “Her work ethic is off the charts, but you know, to be present in competition and when things aren’t going your way is really the key to being a really good player and a really consistent player.”

Murekatete, the first Rwandan to play D-I college basketball, scored 11 points and added nine rebounds and two assists in her final career home game.

After a long, hard week for Cougar Athletics which saw the end of a magical men’s basketball season, the man responsible for that season leave and athletic director Pat Chun take the reins at University of Washington, the Cougs came through with the thrilling victory on WSU’s birthday to send themselves to the Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana for the semifinals of the inaugural WBIT.

Although WSU lost the semifinal 81-58, the WSU women ended the season with a full month’s worth of additional practice and development. It also provided the best WBIT crowd of the three games

At several high-stakes moments, including after each of Clarke’s, Bea’s and Murekatete’s huge shots, Beasley got loud.

“It was kind of cool too because they [Toledo] were trying to call up plays and they couldn’t hear, I was like ‘Finally!’ it was kind of cool and we appreciate the fans and not just right now we need them to keep coming next year,” Murekatete said. “This team’s gonna be even better next year. So fans gotta keep talking Beasley up and make it a really hard place to get a win.”

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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.