Washington State’s last play told the story of the Cougars’ continuous struggle to overcome Arizona and the Wildcats unable to hold back the charge.
Freshman guard Charlisse Leger-Walker maneuvered her way past Bendu Yeaney and by Cate Reese for the difficult shot between both of them at the hoop. The shot fell in at the buzzer in overtime for the Cougars’ 71-69 win.
Washington State, which trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half, made a surge at Arizona throughout the second half and into overtime and pulled off the upset over the seventh-ranked Wildcats at Pullman, Wash.
The Wildcats could not withstand the pesky Cougars and Leger-Walker, the Pac-12’s leading scorer who weathered two fouls called on her in the first four minutes of the game.
Meanwhile, Arizona’s defensive ace Sam Thomas was on the bench after fouling out before Leger-Walker’s driving reverse that tied the game with 3 seconds left in regulation. Thomas was also a helpless spectator when Leger-Walker made her game-winning penetration into the lane in overtime.
“(Thomas on the bench for both plays) affected us a lot because Sam is one of our best defenders. It affected us a lot,” said Arizona coach Adia Barnes, who noted miscommunication on the bench with the official scorers made it difficult to keep accurate tabs of foul totals.
Barnes also suggested the game was called differently from a physical standpoint on both ends of the court, specifically on how All-American guard Aari McDonald was defended.
“I thought that they were very, very physical on Aari, and I thought that we weren’t allowed to play really physical, but that’s the way it is,” Barnes said. “I’m sure people feel that way at Arizona. That’s kind of how it is on the road in the Pac-12.”
Barnes also mentioned that two “very, very tough (foul) calls” were made on Thomas.
“Sam is a great defender. She’s very disciplined, so I need to look at film to see about that. It does not come down to those two (fouls) but it affected us,” Barnes said.
“Sam rarely fouls out of games and I felt she was straight up on a lot of stuff, but that’s how it goes on the road. I thought they did a good job, the officials.”
Leger-Walker finished with 14 of her 17 points (two less than her average) after halftime, and sister Krystal, a fifth-year senior, contributed 14 points and nine assists. The Cougars are alone in second place in the Pac-12 at 7-1 overall and 5-1 in conference play.
The Wildcats (8-2, 6-2 Pac-12) must now put the loss behind them and focus on a scheduled matchup with No. 11 Oregon on Thursday at McKale Center.
“We just gotta have amnesia. This (loss) stinks. We should have won but we just have regroup, watch film and get better,” said McDonald, who led the Wildcats with 23 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.
“We’ve got to come out hot (against Oregon). At the beginning of the game we have to stay with it. We have to stay with momentum all the time. We’ll be fine. We just have to regroup.”
McDonald is now fourth in Arizona career scoring with 1,674 points, passing Ify Ibekwe, who had 1,653 points from 2007-11.[table “101” not found /]
Thomas finished with nine points, eclipsing 1,000 points in her career, before fouling out with 7.4 seconds left in regulation. She is now at 1,002.
Arizona shot 37.7 percent from the field, including a woeful 8 of 30 (26.6 percent) with eight turnovers in the second half and overtime combined. They finished with 15 turnovers that led to 19 points for Washington State.
The Wildcats could not get into a groove after many of their attempts failed off drives to the basket or open looks from mid-range and beyond the arc. Barnes suggested many of those shots were forced and not taken with confidence.
“We have to not press so much … have better spacing and know where to drive the ball, know not to drive into congestion,” Barnes said. “And then I think we need to get that third or fourth player in double digits.
“I think Sam would have been that player because Sam was playing good, but (had) a lot of fouls.”
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) January 10, 2021
Cate Reese was the only other Arizona player in double figures with 10 points, seven of which were in the first quarter. She attempted only four shots, making two. She finished with seven rebounds.
Trinity Baptiste and Shaina Pellington each had eight points and Yeaney finished with seven.
At the end of regulation, Bella Murekatate was fouled by Thomas on a putback attempt, sending Thomas to the bench for good with 7.4 seconds left. Murekatate made one of the two free throw attempts (the last try was waved off because of a lane violation) to cut the lead to 60-58.
Reese could not convert on two free throws (the last attempt that was missed was waved off because of another lane violation) with 5 seconds left after she was fouled by Murekatate, who fouled out on that play.
Charlisse Leger-Walker then made a strong move to the basket converting the reverse with 3 seconds left to tie the game at 58. Yeaney tried a desperation 30-footer off the dribble but missed the shot after the buzzer sounded.
“I thought (Charlisse) Leger-Walker gave us a tough time in the second half,” Barnes said. “She was kind of a difference maker. She made the basket going into overtime and then she made the game-winner. Tough break.
“It has to be a learning lesson for our team because we have to be able to maintain leads.”
Washington State mounted a 67-62 lead with 1:30 left in overtime on a turnaround jumper by Krystal Leger-Walker.
Arizona responded with a Baptiste 3-pointer right before the shot clock expired and then four points by McDonald down the stretch, including two free throws with 10 seconds left to tie the game at 69.
Charlisse Leger-Walker received the inbounds pass after a timeout and appeared determined to drive the lane without passing. She was able to get the shot off in time for the win.
“The thing about us, we were the comeback kids. We won three games this year with deficits of 11 or more,” Barnes said. “So (Washington State) did a good job. They came back. They fought and they outplayed us.
“They deserved to win. They’re a really good team. They’re coached really well, and they stuck it to us in the second half and in overtime. We have to do better.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.