The No. 25 Washington State Cougars stormed back from a 12-point deficit in the final five minutes of the game to force overtime, but they just couldn’t string together enough buckets in the extra period as they fell on the road to the USC Trojans, 81-77.
The Cougs fell to 7-2 overall and 5-2 in Pac-12 play, while the Trojans improved to 6-5 and 4-5.
“A lot of good things tonight,” WSU coach Kamie Ethridge said. “I thought we showed a lot of grit and heart after getting down 12 points in the fourth quarter. Also, just a lot of disappointment. I’m kind of mad at myself. I don’t feel like I had the team prepared and ready. It’s a great learning experience.”
WSU played reasonably well through the first two quarters and held a 7-point lead after Krystal Leger-Walker buried a 3-pointer on the first possession of the second half, and the lead reached as high as 8 points for the Cougars just a few minutes later when her sister, Charlisse, capped a personal 5-0 run with a 3-pointer of her own.
But then USC got hot ... and the Cougs went cold. The Trojans embarked on a 21-3 run over 8 minutes that spanned the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth to seize a 10-point lead with 9 minutes to go — a margin they would more or less maintain for the next 6 minutes.
Trailing by double digits with just over 3 minutes to play — and facing the prospect of their first defeat in nearly a month — the Cougs finally struck back.
First Krystal Leger-Walker drained a 3 to cut to 7 points, and after a turnover by USC, Ula Matuga finally converted one of four WSU offensive rebounds on the ensuing possession to bring the deficit to 5 with just under 2 minutes remaining — with a foul.
She missed the ensuing free throw ... but the Cougs grabble another offensive rebound, and after Ethridge drew up a play out of a timeout to get the ball to her best player, Charlisse Leger-Walker put in a driving layup to cut the USC lead to just 3.
A pair of USC free throws pushed the lead back to 5, but the Cougs bit into it again when Krystal Leger-Walker turned ANOTHER offensive rebound in a 3-pointer — 64-62 USC, 1:08 to play.
Still down by 2 and needing a bucket to tie or win with under 10 seconds to go, Charlisse Leger-Walker was fouled driving to the rim and went to the line for two pressure-packed free throws with 5 seconds to play. She drained them both, and the Cougs appeared off to their second-consecutive overtime.
BUT WAIT. THERE’S MORE. SHE WASN’T DONE IN REGULATION.
Following a USC timeout, Leger-Walker stole the inbounds pass near halfcourt and once again charged toward the basket with plenty of time to make a play. The ball was poked away, though, and she was left to heave a jumper from the corner that missed the mark.
Still, overtime! Only, there’d be no happy ending this time.
The teams played even through the first couple of minutes, but the outcome shifted on the disqualification of center Bella Murekatete, who fouled out on a suspect call away from the ball.
WSU went small, and USC took advantage of the Cougars without their rim protector. Charlisse Leger-Walker did her best to keep the Cougs in it with a flurry of 3s, the final of which pulled WSU to within 2 with 12 seconds to go. A pair of USC free throws on a quick foul put WSU down 4 with 10 seconds to go.
Leger-Walker just would not quit. She attempted yet another 3, and this time she was fouled. With 5 seconds remaining, she calmly drained the first two — her 28th and 29th points of the game and her 10th and 11th points of OT — then appeared to intentionally miss the third. USC secured the rebound, was fouled, and hit both free throws to end the comeback for WSU.
In all, the Trojans shot 62.5% from the field in OT and made all 6 of their free throw attempts.
“Obviously, this is what you get in the Pac-12,” Ethridge said. “You face a lot of different styles of play. USC mixed it up a lot, and I think it threw us off a little bit. I’m disappointed in how we performed, but not in our effort.”