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WSU impresses in 61-54 loss to Stanford

A single digit loss to Stanford nearly feels like a win.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Washington St. at Stanford Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington State Cougars lost to the 2nd-ranked Stanford Cardinal on Thursday night in Palo Alto, 61-54 — a result that signifies positive progress for the Cougs.

While Stanford (24-3, 15-0 in Pac-12) controlled the game from the tip and won pretty handily, WSU (18-9, 10-7) never let Stanford truly run away with the game like in most prior meetings. Krystal Leger-Walker hit a three with eight seconds to go in the game to pull WSU within a single-digit deficit, making it the first time WSU has lost to Stanford by less than 10 points in eight years.

“I’m excited about the fact that we we battled and kept the game kind of manageable. ... I’m pretty proud of how hard we competed and how we stayed with it,” WSU coach Kamie Ethridge said.

Neither team could get much going on the offensive end. The game began with six missed shots before Stanford’s Anna Wilson got the Cardinal on the board nearly two and a half minutes in with a layup. Charlisse Leger-Walker grabbed the lead for WSU with a three ball on the ensuing possession. WSU’s defense continued to stifle the Cardinal for the front end of the first quarter as neither team could pull away with a lead over two possessions. Stanford finally began to turn it on in the back half of the first quarter with an 11-2 run to seize an eight-point lead at the end of the first period.

The Cougar offense got a variety of open looks but had a hard time capitalizing. With the offense stumbling, the defense continued to be tenacious, holding the Cardinal to just 37% from the field in the first half and forcing 10 Cardinal turnovers. While Stanford took a controlling 11-point lead into the halftime break, it felt like it was WSU could be a lot closer than the scoreboard said, given the missed opportunities plaguing the Cougars on the offensive end.

“We had a heart to heart at halftime just with the fact that I thought we just didn’t screen well,” Ethridge said. “We weren’t helping each other at all to get open, and Stanford’s too good a team to not really screen them. They guard so well.”

Finally, it seemed Stanford put their foot on the gas to open the second half. The Cardinal ran out of the break with a 15-9 run to push the lead to a game-high 16. This would be the time in these matchups that Stanford would open up the floodgates and begin a blowout of the Cougars. But this year’s Cardiac Cougs wouldn’t allow it. The Cougars quickly closed the lead to 10 with a 6-0 run and found themselves (only) down 12 heading into the fourth.

“We came out in the second half and I just thought it was executed so much better,” Ethridge said. “I thought Bella (Murekatete’s) screening opened up some shots for us and just put us in a better position. I thought she had a great second half.”

Stanford continued to try and pull away, but WSU continued to hang on and not allow Stanford to begin their typical onslaught of points that pushed WSU into a blowout loss. Charlisse made Stanford sweat just a little bit with a three at the 2:07 mark to pull WSU within eight. But Stanford erased the smallest chance the Cardiac Cougs could work an all-time magical ending with a quick five points to put Stanford at a game-sealing 13-point lead. Ethridge and her players continued to fight courageously to make the score more respectable. Ula Motuga knocked home an open three to pull WSU within 10 and Krystal hit one more three to make the game a single-digit loss for the Cougars.

While I’m not one to hand out moral victories, this felt like a very respectable loss for the Cougars and it speaks to the chemistry and leadership of this ballclub. The Cougars could have very well easily walked into Maples Pavilion with their tail tucked between their legs and folded early on to the team that has beaten them now 71 straight times, but this isn’t who this team is. They fought for 40 minutes with the full intention of trying to win this game. Of course, this isn’t the exact outcome they wanted when they arrived to the game, it’s still one they can live with. Holding the No. 2 team in the nation to just 61 points on 43.1% shooting will do just fine.

Now the Cougars will turn their attention to the California Golden Bears, heading to Berkeley for the regular season finale at noon on Saturday.