WSU (16-8, 8-5 in Pac-12) found themselves as the ones trying to prevent the major comeback this time around, as USC (10-13, 3-10) pulled within three in the final seconds after trailing by as much as 20 earlier. With six seconds to go, USC tried to kick the ball outside for a game tying three, but Krystal Leger-Walker intercepted the pass to seal a close win for the Cougars.
The victory plants the Cougars firmly in fourth place in the Pac-12, which is important in that it would give WSU a bye in the Pac-12 tournament and surely be good for optics when NCAA tournament selection rolls around as the team pursues its second straight March Madness appearance — which would be a first in program history.
WSU tried to give this one away, scoring just 21 points in the second half after scoring 36 in the first and didn’t get a field goal to fall for the final 4:39 of the game. Yet, this team just finds new ways to win. Typically, they’re the ones coming back from a large deficit late in the game, but this time, they had to defend that comeback effort and did so.
WSU’s offense came flying out the gates, hitting eight of 13 first quarter shots. Johanna Teder scored seven of the Cougars 20 first quarter points with a pair of threes and a free throw. USC shot just 21.4% from the field but were able to stay in the game by making seven of eight free throw attempts in the first period.
The second quarter was the Charlisse Leger-Walker quarter. Charlisse scored 12 of the Cougars’ first 14 points in the period and 12 of the Cougars’ 16 in their 16-0 run as the defense put the Trojans offense in locks and the Cougar lead grew to 20. USC wouldn’t go down quietly, though, scoring the final six points of the half to pull within 14.
The teams traded baskets throughout the third period as USC tried to pull within single digits but never could until Jordan Sanders knocked down a three with 22 seconds to punctuate a 6-0 to end the quarter, pulling USC within eight. The Trojan run extended into the fourth quarter as USC scored the first four points and were within four — and suddenly it was a game. WSU ended their nearly five-minute long scoring drought on a nifty post move by Bella Murekatete, sparking another 6-0 run in favor of WSU, this time to push WSU’s lead back into double-digits at 10.
The offense slowed down tremendously for the Cougars as they missed their next five field goal attempts and USC pulled back within five with 2:38 to go. The game drew to stalemate as neither team could get crucial buckets to fall. USC got a chance to pull back within a possession as Jordyn Jenkins headed to the line to shoot two free throws. Jenkins could only get one to fall, to make it a four-point game with just 30 seconds to go. On the ensuing inbound, WSU failed to get the ball in cleanly, with the ball bouncing off Teder last to give USC the ball back.
Jenkins again headed to the charity stripe, getting both to fall this time around and all of a sudden, it was a two-point game. The Trojans opted to foul Charlisse, who uncharacteristically missed both free throws and gave USC a chance to tie the game on a good look inside, but Jenkins’ shot rimmed out and the Cougars drew the foul on the rebound.
Murekatete knocked home one of two free throws to push the lead to three with just six seconds left. Needing a shot from behind the arc, USC struggled to find any room outside against the tough WSU defense. Rayah Marshall tried to drive inside and kick the ball out in the final seconds, but Krystal Leger-Walker tipped the desperation pass away and dribbled the ball out of harm’s way in the final second to allow the Cougars to escape with a 57-54 win.
Charlisse Leger-Walker had an outstanding first half, scoring 16 of her 20 points and played all 40 minutes. Murekatete nearly came out with a double-double, scoring 15 and grabbing 9 rebounds.
The Cougars will welcome in the Arizona schools next with the Arizona State Sun Devils being first up on Friday night.