The Cougar women’s basketball (19-10, 10-7) team struggled on the defensive end of the court in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals and it left them with what turned out to be an insurmountable lead. Utah (19-10, 9-7) upended the No. 3 seed 70-59 on Thursday night to advance to the Pac-12 semifinals for the first time in program history.
The game was lead ultimately decided by a 15-0 Utah run at the end of the first quarter that was started by a layup for Rees with 4:19 left in the quarter. It was a lead that continued to grow as the Utes couldn’t miss any of their shots throughout that run. Meanwhile, the Washington State offense chucked up brick after brick or there were miscommunications that led to turnovers.
The third quarter initially looked like it was the opportunity the Cougs were looking for to climb back into the game to set-up a dramatic fourth; but Utah closed out the frame on a 8-2 run over the last three and a half minutes to push its lead back out to 18 at 59-41.
Out of the quarter break the Utes would extend that run to 12-2 with a 4-0 run to start the fourth. That left Utah with a 24 point lead with 6:32 left in the game and it was out of reach as both squads went to their benches. Washington state closed out the final two minutes of the game on a 12-0 run to make the margin look more respectable for its NET rankings.
But ultimately, the Utes completely shut down Charlisse Leger-Walker ( six points, 2-12 from the field, 0-5 from three) and Johana Teder (five points, 2-8 from the field, and 1-6 from three) in route to the win. The Cougar offense did see freshmen Tara Wallack pop off for 16 points with six rebounds; and junior Bella Murekatete led WSU’s scorers with 18 points, she also pulled in five rebounds.
Jenna Johnson led all scorers with 19 points as she could not miss in the upset win for Utah (7-11 from the field and 2-4 from beyond the arc).
A pair of free throws from Gianna Kneepkens pushed Utah’s lead out to its largest of the first half at 20. Those were also the last points scored in the first half as the Utes took a 45-25 lead into the locker room.
The second quarter started off with Peyton McFarland grabbing at her knee as she went up for a layup and she held it all the way down to the court. She was eventually assisted off the court as the training staff took her to the locker room.
Murekatete would score the Cougs first two buckets of the quarter as they outscored Utah 4-2 in the first two minutes of the second frame. The junior would then score the next bucket of the game with 6:35 left as she got an offensive board and put it into the net. Unfortunately the Utes hot shooting continued as Kennady Mcqueen drilled a three pointer to get their lead back up to 16.
Mcqueen’s three was followed-up by a Kneepkens three and all of the sudden WSU’s defense was back on its heels. At this point Washington State’s offense would heavily rely on Wallack as she’d hit a pair of free throws, then follow that up with a offensive board and a second-chance layup. Charlisse’s first bucket of the game came with 2:36 left in the half on a beautiful layup.
But Johnson would continue her hot shooting as she drilled a three right after the sophomore’s bucket. Utah would close out the first half with the last seven points — including Johnson’s three.
The first five minutes of the first quarter had started relatively competitive as both squads kept trading buckets. Wallack, who had gotten the start over Ula Motuga, was heavily involved early on. As the freshmen and Murekatete were consistently fed the ball by Krystal Leger-Walker in the paint. Unfortunately the shots stopped falling and Utah’s defense keyed in on it which led to the offense’s stuttering performance at the end of the quarter.
Washington State awaits its tournament fate on Selection Sunday, March 13th at 8 PM.
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Photo Credit: Utah women’s basketball