Alexa PhilippouESPN4 minute read
In one of the most unlikely Power 5 conference tournaments in recent memory, the Washington State women’s basketball team clinched their first Pac-12 tournament title, knocking out No. 19 UCLA 65- 61 Sunday in Las Vegas.
The No. 7-seeded Cougars had already become the lowest-seeded team to advance to the Pac-12 Tournament title game, which featured none of the top four seeds for the first time in the story of the event. It also marked the first Pac-12 Tournament championship game appearance for Washington State, which compiled a record 23-game winning streak heading into the NCAA Tournament.
“We never thought we would do this,” tournament MVP Charlisse Leger-Walker said of the Nets cut in Vegas. “That moment was so surreal.”
Fifth-year coach Kamie Ethridge added, “I never thought we could do it. I don’t even think when I took the job I thought it was possible, in this kind of league.”
To secure the crown, Washington State beat four teams in five days: No. 10 seeded Cal, No. 2 seeded Utah, No. 3 seeded Colorado, then Bruins, seeded No. 5.
The championship marked the first Pac-12 title for a Washington State women’s sports team and, according to the Pac-12 Network, the first Pac-12 tournament crown for a Washington State team in 21 years. . The men’s basketball program last won a conference tournament championship more than 80 years ago.
The Cougars’ victory caught the eye of former Washington State men’s basketball player Klay Thompson, who posted on Twitter and Instagram on a day when his Golden State Warriors faced the Los Angeles Lakers. . On Instagram, the NBA veteran wrote, “To say I’m proud doesn’t do her justice. What these young (women) have been able to accomplish is incredible and will live on forever. Go COUGS.”
Washington State was led by junior Leger-Walker’s 23 points, followed by senior Bella Murekatete’s 21 points.
With the championship in tow, the Cougars are now projected as the No. 6 seed in Charlie Creme’s final bracket for the NCAA Tournament.
Washington State – located in Pullman, Washington, with a population of 32,000 – is considered one of the toughest places to win in the Power 5.
But Ethridge, a 1986 champion as a player in Texas as well as a 1988 Olympian with Team USA, has the Cougars more relevant than ever in a deep Pac-12, guiding them to three straight NCAA Tournament berths. .
Building success in a place with no tradition, in a conference that plans for Creme to have six more representatives in the NCAA Tournament, is no small feat. The Pac-12 has sent six different schools to the last 10 Final Fours, the most of any conference in this span.
“It’s really hard work,” UCLA coach Cori Close said. “It’s a tough place to recruit and they don’t do it like everyone else. They find their own niche and they really recruit in that niche and then they execute like crazy. So thank them. Kamie has did a great job and I have enormous respect not only for the way they play, but also for the reasons why they coach.”
Ethridge added, “It’s just a testament that anything is possible, and if you put the right people in place who believe, work, and commit to each other, you can accomplish amazing things together.”
To do so, it has relied heavily on international recruitment, with nine of Ethridge’s 13 players on this year’s roster hailing from outside the United States.
“We came here because we love all these coaches we have, and we all believe they could help us improve as people and as athletes,” said Australian graduate student Ula Motuga. “And I think what we’ve been able to do speaks to that.”
The Cougars will look to earn the program’s first victory in an NCAA tournament later this month.