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Washington State upsets No. 2 UCLA, lose Leger-Walker to injury, 85-82

A massive win for the Cougs comes at a price.

Ashley Davis

In a rematch of last year’s Pac-12 Championship game, the Washington State Cougars emerged victorious again, downing the No. 2 UCLA Bruins 85-82.

The massive victory for WSU (15-6, 4-4 in Pac-12) comes at a potentially significant cost. With 7:30 remaining in the third period, Charlisse Leger-Walker suffered a knee injury that sidelined the senior for the remainder of the game, and will have to wait on MRI results to see what her status will be for the remainder of the season. Kamie Ethridge had no official update after the game.

Fellow senior Bella Murekatete led the way for WSU with 20 points and seven rebounds while freshman Ele Villa cashed in 18 points to give the Cougs their fifth win over UCLA (16-3, 5-3) in their last seven meetings. Before Ethridge arrived in Pullman, WSU had just three wins over UCLA dating back to the 1998-99 season. Even more importantly, the win gives WSU a huge boost to their resume that had been lacking a signature win over a top-25 opponent prior to Sunday’s contest.

WSU had little trouble finding their way into the paint early, scoring all 12 of their first 12 points down low. In the opposite paint, Alex Covill locked it down defensively, swatting away a pair of Bruin shots. After the Bruins broke through the defense with a 6-0 run to retake the lead, Murekatete knocked home back-to-back jumpers and Kira Gardner helped separate WSU before the end of the first period with a corner trey to put the Cougs up four. As UCLA tried to respond quick after the Gardner three, it was Murekatete’s turn to swat away a driving layup from Gabriela Jauqez.

With an early lead, WSU didn’t let off the gas going into the second. Leger-Walker kicked things off with her first trey of the afternoon. Murekatete scored her fifth bucket on the next possession and Leger-Walker worked her way inside for an and-one to push the lead to seven. Ele Villa finished off the run with her first triple to put WSU up double-digits and forcing UCLA to call timeout to try and cool off the red-hot Coug offense.

While UCLA was able to break up the run out of the timeout with a Londynn Jones bucket, it didn’t slow down WSU who rattled off another 8-0 run with a trio of inside buckets to extend the lead to 16. The Bruins needed yet another timeout after Leger-Walker cashed another trey, flashing a big smile as her teammates flew off the bench to celebrate the 17-point lead.

Leger-Walker pushed the lead to 18 to kick off the second half, but would leave just a minute later with a nasty knee injury. Charisma Osborne began the Bruins rally with a personal 7-0 run, but WSU immediately answered with a 6-0 anchored by a trio of Murekatete free throws and a Jenna Villa three. But again, UCLA responded with another 7-0 to pull within 12 where the lead would stay going into the final 10 minutes.

As UCLA continued to put the pressure on the Cougs, chipping away into the lead, WSU continued to answer but only for one bucket for every two UCLA scored. Eventually, the Bruins had broke within double-digits and then within two possessions with a Osborne trey. WSU held the Bruins at an arms length, thanks to Wallack’s ability to get to the charity stripe — attempting 10 free throw shots in the fourth quarter — and inside buckets from Gardner and Jenna Villa.

While WSU was able to hold UCLA away for most of the fourth quarter, the Bruins finally cracked within a possession on a Kiki Rice and-one with 43 seconds remaining. The game became a free throw competition that saw WSU only knock down two of their four attempts while the Bruins hit all four of theirs to make it a one-point game and Murekatete headed to the line with 16 seconds left. Murekatete, shooting 72.7% from the stripe on the season, calmly cashed both of her free throw shots to make it a three point game and one stop away from one of the biggest upsets in program history.

With 8.8 seconds left following a missed three from Rice, the Bruins inbounded the ball to Osborne who heaved up a three over Ele Villa, who defended Osborne excellently, that missed left off the rim. The Bruins scrambled to collect the loose offensive rebound and heaved up a prayer that ultimately didn’t beat the clock as the Cougs raced onto Wooden Court at Pauley Pavilion to celebrate the upset win.

Winning in Pauley Pavilion had previously been such a foreign concept for this program. They had never done it (dating back to 1998-99) before Ethridge showed up, and now they’ve won in back-to-back trips. Just another record to add to Ethridge’s seemingly endless list of WSU firsts.

WSU’s attention now turns to the health of Leger-Walker. If Leger-Walker is indeed going to miss significant time, the Cougs will need their underclassmen to really step up. Hopefully, we are looking to Astera Tuhina to help the backcourt depth.

The Cougs will now have to get ready for another big test, welcoming in the No. 3 Colorado Buffaloes into Pullman on Friday.