Dealing with a handful of injuries, Arizona (10-9, 2-5 in Pac-12) played with only eight players but kept the game close for all but the final 15 minutes before the strong depth of WSU (14-5, 3-3) powered through. WSU outscored Arizona 35-15 in the final 15 minutes of the game to turn a game that could have gone either way into a dominant display from the Cougars. Tara Wallack led the game in scoring with 20, tying her career high while Bella Murekatete set another program record at tipoff with her 136th career game played.
The game began with a game of ‘anything you can do, I can do’ as the Wildcats and Cougars first traded five point runs, then traded nine point runs and finished the quarter going bucket for bucket as neither team could gain a true edge. Wallack bookended both of WSU’s first quarter runs with treys.
Ele Villa helped WSU create some separation with an and-one to begin the second quarter, putting WSU up four. Bella Murekatete and Beyonce Bea each tacked on a layup to push the lead up to six. As Arizona chipped into the deficit with a 5-0 run, Charlisse Leger-Walker answered with a trey. The Wildcats put together another 5-0 run to retake the lead, but Murekatete and Wallack teamed up to outscore the Wildcats 6-2 in the final two and a half minutes to go up three before half.
Early in the third period, Murekatete fell hard to the floor, face first, and would have to exit the game. Without their all-time leader in games played, offensive rebounds and blocks on the floor, Arizona began to threaten. While the Wildcats were able to slowly chip into the deficit, reducing it down to one, WSU drew together an answer for each Arizona run attempt at the lead.
After the Wildcats cashed a pair of free throws to make it a one point game, Murekatete returned to the game and immediately made an impact with an and-one that had the senior center fired up.
“That was a huge turning point in the game.” Leger-Walker said on Murekatete’s and-one. “It really pushed our momentum out and it started on the defensive end. We got a lot more aggressive and tried to make them really take hard twos and once they started missing those we had transition buckets and really got on a run.”
Having their frontcourt leader back on the floor sparked the Cougars for a 9-0 run finished off by a Leger-Walker steal and assist to Wallack on the fast break.
3rd, 2:14 | "WOW"— WSU Cougar Women's (@WSUCougarWBB) January 21, 2024
Leger-Walker tips away an Arizona pass and finds Wallack who puts it up for ✌ to give us our first 10-point lead of the day!
52-42 Cougs!#GoCougs | #CougsVsEverybody pic.twitter.com/aCTeR31rel
Jenna Villa added a trey after an Arizona bucket to put WSU up 11, their highest lead of the game thus far heading into the fourth quarter.
With all the momentum on the crimson side and the eight available players for the Wildcats start to wear down, WSU put together a game sealing 10-0 run to open the fourth quarter finished off — yet again — by Wallack. Wallack finished her big afternoon with two more buckets, including her third trey.
“Getting in extra shots during the week has helped me gain more confidence and not hesitating, just taking what’s given to me.” Wallack said.
Wallack (20), Murekatete (16), Ele Villa (11), Jenna Villa (11) and Leger-Walker (10) all finished with double digit point. Both Murekatete and Leger-Walker recorded double-doubles with 11 rebounds and assists respectively.
“When we have, five or at least four people in double figures every game we’ve won almost every game,” Leger-Walker said. “I think a lot of that is creating shots for people and especially with [Tuhuna] out, who is a big playmaker for us, that falls heavily on me and Ele, just being able to get our shooters open and let them knock down shots is a really good feeling.”
“I almost love celebrating a good assist rather than a bucket sometimes.”
The Cougars third straight win also gets them up to .500 in conference play after dropping their first three.
While it was a very successful homestand for WSU, they will now be seriously tested on the road next weekend with a trip down to Southern California to square off with two currently top-10 ranked teams. The Cougars will first square off against the No. 6 USC Trojans on Friday then play the No. 5 UCLA Bruins on Sunday.