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Trailing by 12 with less than 15 minutes to go in the game, the Washington State women’s basketball team pulled off an unlikely comeback in Spokane on Wednesday night to defeat Gonzaga, 51-49.
The Cougs finished the game outscoring the Zags 29-15 over those final 15 minutes behind the one-two-three punch of their best outside and inside players: Charlisse Leger-Walker, Bella Murekatete, and Tara Wallack.
Offense had been hard to come by for the Cougars through the first 25 minutes of the game; in the first half, WSU shot just 5-of-27 from the field, including only 3-of-11 from beyond the arc. Gonzaga owned the glass on the plethora of misses — the Cougs pulled down just two offensive rebounds in the opening half, including none in the second quarter — leading to the WSU trailing 34-22 midway through the third quarter after a 7-0 run by the Bulldogs.
It turned out that it was the perfect setup for a comeback.
Ula Motuga kicked it with a 3-pointer, and while the Zags self-destructed with turnovers, the Cougs used a pair of free throws from Wallack, a pair of twos from Murekatete and a layup from Leger-Walker to close to within one behind an 11-0 run.
The fourth quarter was a back-and-forth affair, with the Cougars opening up their biggest lead, at 4 points, with 3:39 to play. After a miss by Gonzaga on the next possession, the Cougs had a chance to really put the pressure on, but Wallack missed a jumper and Emma Nankervis turned the ball over following an offensive rebound, and the Zags were back in business.
WSU turned it over on their next two possessions while the Bulldogs went on a 4-0 spurt, and suddenly it was tied with 1:30 to go. Motuga turned a Murekatete miss into a putback — and a two-point lead — but Gonzaga hit a pair of free throws on the next possession to tie it up again with 41 seconds to play.
Offensive rebounding once again was huge for the Cougs, as Murekatete collected her own miss to get fouled on the putback; she made one of the free throws to give WSU a slim, one-point lead with 23 seconds remaining.
Needing a bucket to win, the Zags launched a wayward 3-pointer with 6 seconds to go, Leger-Walker collected the rebound, and she was fouled with 2 seconds remaining. Charlisse hit the second of the two attempts, Gonzaga’s final 3 was just off the mark, and WSU walked out with a hard-fought, 51-49 victory.
It was the Cougars’ first win against Gonzaga in Spokane since 2014, and snaps a four-game losing streak overall to the Zags.
“This is a big win. It was an amazing performance from our team,” WSU coach Kamie Ethridge said. “It was great being in the locker room after the game and seeing them celebrate. They know this was a big win. It was the first time that our freshmen and sophomores had played in front of a crowd like this.
“We knew the problems that Gonzaga presented with their discipline and physicality. That has killed us in the past against them, because we haven’t been physical enough to play with them. Our team understands that this is a statement game for our program. It shows where we are going and how far we’ve grown. Now we can guard at this level now and compete. I thought we kept ourselves in the game and made some amazing game-winning plays in the second half.”
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