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Furious comeback from No. 21 Cougs falls short against Huskies, 60-55

The 21 point deficit proved to be too much.

Ashley Davis

Entering today’s contest, Washington State owned an 8-2 record over the Huskies in the Kamie Ethridge era, including a 4-1 record in Pullman. The team that showed up in the first half for WSU looked far from the ones we’ve become accustom to in this rivalry series as of late. Washington won their first game in Pullman in nearly four years, 60-55, despite the Cougars outscoring the Huskies in the second half 38-23.

WSU (10-2, 0-1 in Pac-12) couldn’t buy a bucket early, scoring just two points on 1 of 15 from the field in the first quarter. By the time the Cougs began to find some resemblance of offense in the second quarter, they had already dug themselves a 21-point hole as UW (10-0, 1-0) began to cut down on their own early struggles and bury triple after triple.

It’s a rare highly disappointing effort from this Ethridge team that had been so dynamic, not just this season, but in nearly every opportunity they got against their rival. Failure to finish buckets around the rim, careless turnovers and unable to get any momentum changing runs going plagued the Cougs early on and ultimately led to the deficit that became insurmountable, even for this battle-tested group that put up a better fight in the second half.

Despite the sluggish start from the Cougs that saw them trail as much as 21 in the first half, the team that emerged for the second half looked much more familiar. WSU opened the third quarter with a 6-0 run on a three-point play the old fashioned way from Bella Murekatete and a three-pointer from Ele Villa. A Tara Wallack layup and a quartet of free throws from Charlisse Leger-Walker brought the Huskies lead down to 12. Villa drilled another three a few minutes later to cut it down to 10. A Leger-Walker and-one near the end of the quarter helped bring it down to single digits for the first time since the 6:10 mark in the second quarter. The Huskies answered with a bucket of their own before the horn to hold the double-digit lead heading into the final 10 minutes.

WSU found themselves in a similar situation not that long ago. In 2022, the Cougars also had to overcome early struggles to beat UW at Beasley Coliseum. The late game heroics from Ula Motuga helped erase the nine-point fourth quarter deficit and send the game to overtime, where the Cougars would ultimately win it. If they were to complete one of the largest comebacks in rivalry history, they would need a similar effort from their veterans.

Murekatete began to go to work on UW’s interior defense, scoring three straight buckets inside for WSU with the capper being an and-one. Leger-Walker and Astera Tuhina teamed up for a pair of buckets to cut the deficit to six with 2:32 to go. Hannah Stines took the air out of the arena on the next possession, drilling a deep trey that looked to be the dagger with the Huskies back up by nine. But the Cougs wouldn’t go away quietly. Murekatete scored another bucket inside on the next possession, then got a bucket to fall on a fast break while being fouled for a huge and-one to give the Cougs some life.

Stines missed another chance at a dagger three and WSU capitalized with a Leger-Walker layup to bring the once 21-point deficit all the way down to just two with 34 seconds to play. Villa was whistled for the foul on the other end, sending UW to the free throw line to push the lead back up to two possessions. A missed contested three from Leger-Walker and a turnover on the offensive rebound gave UW the ball back for one more free throw and a celebration at center court just seconds later.

While the effort in the second half rally to cut down such a huge deficit was impressive, the stench of the first half was unfortunately the story of the game.

WSU will have a week to reset before welcoming in the Houston Cougars next Sunday.