Krystal Leger-Walker picked off a pass as time ran off the clock to secure the first season sweep for Washington State women’s basketball (16-8, 8-5) over USC (10-13, 3-10) since the 1998-99 season. The Trojans had overcome a 20 point deficit to get back in the game, but a poorly executed final possession cost them a shot at overtime as WSU picked up the 57-54 home win.
Krystal’s picked off pass came after the Trojans had gotten the ball back with less than six seconds left — after Bella Murekatete had hit the second of two free throws to make it a three point game. Southern California had forced the ball into the paint, which was foolish when they needed a three to force OT, it was when Rayah Marshall’s pass was picked off that the Cougars could take a breath.
USC had benefited from a missed foul call on an inbounds pass with 6.5 left in the final quarter, as the Cougars “turned” the ball over. Fortunately the Trojans offensive possession after the missed call ended up empty; but it was still insanely infuriating that that could have decided the game. Charlisse Leger-Walker was sent to the line on the next inbounds pass and she missed both of her shots from the charity stripe. Southern California took the ball into the paint and then fouled Murekatete on a rebound attempt; that’s when she hit the free throw that pushed WSU’s lead out to three and made that final possession for USC much harder.
That final quarter was arguably the fastest of the game as neither offense was able to really get any shots off. It was also the quarter with the lowest combined score (19 total points).
What really made the difference for Washington State, on both ends of the court, was the fact that both Murekatete and Johana Teder were on the court for most of (if not all) of that final quarter. Both players made a huge difference in the paint and scored five of the Cougars’ seven points (in the fourth quarter) with beautiful layups. If they’d been out of the game do to personal fouls, this would have ended differently. Another difference maker, and what allowed USC to come back, was the fact that Washington State went 0 for 10 from beyond the arc in the second half; and the Cougars kept taking those shots despite the fact that they were not falling.
Southern California closed out the third quarter on a 6-0 run that was capped by a Jordan Sanders three to cut the WSU lead to eight. The run had come because the Trojans had strung together back-to-back-to-back defensive stops that saw Washington State take a series of contested shots. It was also fueled by the fact that Murekatete had gone to the bench with three fouls at the under-five media timeout after a weak reach call was made. Without the center in the paint, Jordyn Jenkins and the Trojans had a lot more success in the paint.
After that run, the third quarter ended with WSU’s lead down to eight at 50-42. Both squads swapped empty possessions at the buzzer.
It was a disastrous end to a quarter that had promised to widen the Cougar lead at the start. At first Murakete and Jenkins swapped buckets, but then the Cougs strung together a pair of defensive stops with made layups to widen the lead. That is until the officials got involved and several weak foul calls in this quarter put ends to WSU drives or sent Southern California up to the free throw line to keep the score close. Murekatete’s third foul put more pressure on the defense in the paint which Sanders and Jenkins were able to use to their advantage.
The second quarter saw Washington State’s offense click as it went on a 16-0 run that started with a layup by Charlisse to make it 22-16 and was capped of by a spin move by Murekatete and a relatively easy layup to make it 36-16 with 1:55 left in the quarter. Charlisse was a major reason for the offensive success for WSU down the stretch in that quarter as she scored 12 of the 16 points that Washington State scored in that run — this included a pair of insanely pretty threes from deep. Outside of the Murekatete jumper, Tara Wallack also chipped into the run with a jump shot of her own to give the Cougs a comfortable lead.
It wasn’t just the offense that allowed that run to happen, as there was a series of impressive defensive stops that prevented USC from getting many shots off. This included a shot clock violation after the Washington State defense had double teamed Sanders out in front of its bench.
Unfortunately, the Trojans were able to adapt as they closed out the final minute and 18 seconds on a 6-0 run of their own to cut the Cougar lead down to 14. Southern California’s run was kicked off by a Sanders layup that took advantage of an overly aggressive defense. Jenkins also chipped in with her own jumper before Sanders fired off a midrange jumper at the buzzer to make it 36-22 WSU as both squads went to the locker room.
The first quarter was intensely physical, as at one point Teder stuck her elbow in Jenkins face and it led to the sophomore throwing the Cougar defender to the floor. Teder drew a foul for the hold and Jenkins an intentional for the throw. Krystal hit the second of the two free throws as a result of the intentional foul to make it 15-9 with 3:51 left in the quarter.
Washington State had started off the first frame on an 11-4 run that included a brilliant three by Teder and absolute dominance in the paint by Krystal and Murekatete. Unfortunately, Murekatete quickly went to the bench with a pair of fouls and she was followed by both Teder and Jessica Clarke. Clarke’s second foul came fairly quickly after she hit a lay-up with 1:08 left in the quarter and sent Jenkins to the line. After Jenkins hit both her free throws neither side scored as the Cougs took a 20-14 lead into the quarter break.
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Photo Credit: USC women’s basketball