December 28, 2023 

Cougars still looking to find their consistency

'I don’t think we’re playing our best basketball yet'

Charlisse Leger-Walker was getting ready to head home for the holiday break. To New Zealand.
For the first time in five years, the Washington State shooting guard spent the holiday with her family, more than 7,000 miles from Pullman.

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Time to relax, time to recover and time to ponder what’s next for the Cougars.

While the Pac-12 final season gets underway in earnest this weekend – including Saturday’s marquee matchup between USC and UCLA at Pauley, Washington State waits perhaps not so patiently to return to the floor on Jan. 5. The Cougars will make the trip to the Bay Area to face off against Stanford and Cal and are hoping to turn the tide on a recent spate of struggles that have included two losses in their last three games. One was to rival Washington to open the conference schedule, and another came on the road against Auburn.

Still, Washington State, the team that got national recognition last season for winning the Pac-12 Tournament for the first time in program history, is 11-3 with strong non-conference wins over Gonzaga and Maryland as well as a brief stay in the Top 25. The Cougars also have a sense of confidence that last year’s late-season success, and an NCAA Tournament appearance, were signs of more good things to come.

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“Any loss where you have the whole week to brew and think about what went wrong and the areas where we need to improve is unusual this time of year,” Leger-Walker said. “I think we’ve had a bunch of games this season where we’ve kind of started really slow and had to almost grind our way back in.”

Against Washington, the Cougars scored just two first-quarter points and were down 20 points at the half before rallying to get within single digits. Against Auburn, WSU had a 32-26 halftime lead, but scored just nine points in the third quarter, allowing the Tigers to surge ahead and close out the win.

“It’s a matter of figuring it out,” Leger-Walker said. “Like, is it an energy thing or a strategic thing? I think of the games we’ve lost, the common denominator is we didn’t score the ball well enough. Going into the conference, we definitely cannot win games if we’re not producing points.”

Head coach Kamie Ethridge said she “isn’t positive” about who her team is just yet.

“We are a little inconsistent,” Ethridge said. “I don’t think we’re playing our best basketball yet, but I think the potential is still there.”

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She has every reason to believe that’s true with four starters back on the floor, and the contributions of some young players, such as Eleonora Villa and Jenna Villa (not related).

“I feel like we have better scoring potential and we’ve had games where Charlisse hasn’t played up to her standards and Bella (Murekatete) hasn’t played up to her standards. We have main players that we have to get numbers from, and I think that’s the difference,” Ethridge said. “We just don’t quite have enough. I think we are about 10 points shy on a nightly basis of being where we need to be. I think we have the potential and we just have not been consistent across the board.”

Ethridge’s high expectations are warranted for her two standouts given their role in turning the Cougars’ program into a team that expects, rather than hopes, to reach the NCAA Tournament and compete in the Pac-12.

Leger-Walker’s scoring average of 12.9 per game is a career-low, the biggest drop-off in her 3-point shooting, where she is hitting just 18.6 percent of her shots from beyond the arc. Muraketete is averaging career-highs in scoring (13.9 ppg) and rebounding (8.2), but she scored just four points in the loss to Auburn in 22 minutes.

Leger-Walker is appreciative of the fact that she doesn’t have to carry the offensive load all of the time.

“I think we have a lot of different ways that we can score and a lot of different people who can score and so that’s always really nice when you can go a bit deeper,” Leger-Walker said. “People make an impact on the game in different ways and I think (opposing) teams are going to have to really respect people who’s out on the court and kind of figure out different ways to guard and defend us. I think it’s a really good thing that our team didn’t really have in the past.”

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The Cougars will play three straight road games starting on Jan. 5, including the Cardinal, the Bears and their rematch against Washington, and five of seven overall. Statistically, the Cougars sit in the middle of the Pac-12 in field-goal percentage, scoring and offensive efficiency, a double-digit distance away from the top-scoring teams – UCLA, Utah and Stanford.

Defensively, WSU ranks third in scoring defense, allowing 56.4 points a game.

Still, Ethridge believes that this team has a “higher ceiling” than last year’s groundbreaking squad, which finished 23-11 (most wins ever) and with a third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.

“We had a magical week at the Pac-12 Tournament last spring and I think we could catch that moment again with what we have,” Ethridge said. “I think what everybody’s chasing is consistency. It’s one thing to be magical and have a magical week. It’s another to be just that good every time you step on the court. We’ve just had some really wild swings of inconsistency, and that’s I think we got to eliminate.”

Written by Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith has covered women's basketball nationally for nearly three decades. Smith has worked for, The Athletic, the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as and She was named to the Alameda County Women's Hall of Fame in 2015, is the 2017 recipient of the Jake Wade Media Award from the Collegiate Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA) and was named the Mel Greenberg Media Award winner by the WBCA in 2019.

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