The defending Pac-12 tournament champion Washington State Cougars used a dominant third quarter to get past the Cal Poly Mustangs in a 78-61 victory in the season opener.
WSU (1-0) didn’t get out to the fastest start, entering the second half trailing Cal Poly (0-1) 34-31. The halftime adjustments paid off when the Cougs broke the game wide open on a 14-0 run that held the Mustangs scoreless for nearly six minutes. Fifth year center Bella Murekatete lead the game in scoring with 18, 11 of which came in the final quarter.
The Mustangs refused to miss early on, hitting 9 of their 14 first quarter shots, including a pair of threes from Mary Carter off the bench to close the first quarter with a six-point lead. Astera Tuhina knocked home her own pair of threes in the first quarter and added another in the second to pull the Cougs back within two. Natalia Ackerman pushed the lead back up to six with two shots inside the paint, but the newcomers for WSU would answer right back. After collecting a missed free throw, Beyonce Bea put up the bucket inside for second chance points then passed the torch onto freshman sharpshooter Jenna Villa, rattling in back-to-back threes to give WSU the lead. Ania McNicholas put together two threes of her own right before the half to give the Mustangs a 34-31 lead heading into the locker rooms.
Whatever adjustments or speech Kamie Ethridge gave at half, it worked. Murekatete opened things up with a bucket inside and hit one of two at the stripe on the next possession, which she created with a steal. Bea took advantage of a Mustang turnover with a go-ahead bucket before the Mustangs interrupted the run. Charlisse Leger-Walker finally got into the points column on a fastbreak layup that proved to be the spark WSU needed to pour it on. Jenna recorded her fourth three of the game and Elenora Villa (unrelated to Jenna) bookended the dominant 14-0 run with her first points as a Coug, a triple.
WSU never looked back despite Cal Poly’s best efforts to claw back into the game, never letting the Mustangs get closer than seven. The veteran trio of Tara Wallack, Leger-Walker and Murekatete combined for a game sealing 8-0 run with under three minutes to go to polish off the first victory of the season.
The Cougars are back in action at Beasley on Thursday against in-state rival Gonzaga at 7 PM.