Despite a dominant performance in the fourth quarter, the Washington State women’s basketball team (14-7, 6-4) was unable to overcome a 19 point deficit against the Utah Utes (13-7, 4-4). Two long field goal droughts in the first half proved to be too much for the Cougars to overcome in the 72-66 loss in Salt Lake City, Utah.
For Washington State, the first half was a story of field goal droughts. The Cougars finished the half going the last 4:14 without a field goal and they also straddled the quarter break with a field goal drought that lasted over nearly 10 minutes between a Charlisse Leger-Walker jumper in the first quarter and a Tara Wallack three in the second. Those droughts absolutely buried WSU as the Utes continued to hit jumpers and three pointers — and free throws aren’t enough to keep pace. That was why the Utes entered the halftime locker room with a 38-27 lead.
The offense slowed down because Bella Murekatete earned her second foul about halfway into the first quarter and headed to the bench. Prior to the junior’s foul trouble, the offensive game plan looked like it was to get the ball to her in the paint and it worked beautifully. Murekatete hit six of the Cougars first eight points as they were on an 8-2 run to start off the game.
Unfortunately, once she was both sides of the ball began to struggle. The defense began to collapse more quickly to the ball which left shots out open beyond the arc; which Utah took major advantage of.
Kneepkens was the first to take advantage of the open threes as the Utes kicked it out to her in front of their bench after an offensive board. Next was Maxwell, whom hit a three point jumper to cut WSU’s lead down to one at 16-15; while WSU was able to push its lead up to three at 18-15 after a pair of free throws, the lead would gradually disappear under the Utah offensive onslaught.
In the second quarter, the Utes started with a pair of three pointers — one by Maxwell and the other by Maka Jackson — to push their lead out to nine. After Jackson’s three pointer, neither squads was unable to get a bucket until Peyton Mcfarland hit a second chance lay-up. Tara Wallack would then hit the first of her back-to-back threes to cut Utah’s lead to 29-24 and that would be the Cougs would get through the third quarter break. The Utes ended up closing out the second frame on a 6-0 run to take an 11 point lead into the locker room.
The fourth quarter was easily the best basketball the Cougars had played all afternoon, they outscored the Utes 27-14, but it was to little too late. Washington State started off the final frame with a 10-2 run that was kick started by a Jessica Clarke second chance jumper. Krystal Leger-Walker and Charlisse proved to be the dominant force in this quarter, along with Murekatete. Johana Teder also found her shot, particularly from beyond the arc, to quickly cut the Utes lead in half.
Their success came when the defense was able to generate turnovers and get the ball into Charlisse’s or Murekatete’s hands. It was a repeat of the success they’d had in the early part of the first quarter. Utah also struggled with fouls and would see Mcfarland foul out — Charlisse would also foul out for WSU in the final minute.
As much as Washington State dominated the final quarter, the third quarter was all Utah. Even with Murekatete in the offense struggled to find points in the paint which forced the Cougs to take contested shots late in the shot clock. And the Utes owned the boards in that frame which kept the ball away from Krystal (and she’s down right deadly with second chance points). There isn’t a lot of success to be found on the offensive side of the court when you shoot 38.5% from the field and 25% from beyond the arc.
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Photo Credit: Washington State Athletic Communications