It’s a battle for second place
Going into the 2018-19 season, Washington State and Arizona were mired in the bottom of the Pac-12 standings. The media wasn’t very confident that either was on the way up as they voted the Wildcats 10th in the preseason poll and the Cougars 11th.
Arizona proved them wrong that year. WSU is doing the same this year.
The Cougars were picked dead last in both the coaches and media polls this season. Now headed into their sixth Pac-12 game, they are tied with Arizona in the loss column at 4-1. The seventh-ranked Wildcats, who are 6-1 in league play, will be in a battle for second in the Pac-12 standings on Sunday in Pullman.
The biggest difference for the Cougars come in the form of two sisters from New Zealand. The elder sister, Krystal Leger-Walker, followed head coach Kamie Ethridge from Northern Colorado. After sitting out her transfer year, she’s finding success with WSU as a senior.
The younger sister is an even bigger revelation. Charlisse Leger-Walker is the reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Week. She has now been crowned the league’s best freshman three times and leads the conference in scoring at 19.0 points per game.
Charlisse isn’t new to Arizona head coach Adia Barnes. Barnes saw her play for the New Zealand national team when the Wildcats were recruiting sophomore guard Tara Manumaleuga. Barnes just wasn’t sure the younger Leger-Walker would have this kind of impact on the Cougars’ program so early in her career.
“I think it’s a surprise to everybody because most people didn’t know who Leger-Walker was,” Barnes told Derrick Palmer on her weekly radio show. “I knew who she was because I had seen her play. I knew she was really good, but I did not know or think that she would help Washington State be so successful. They’re good, but I didn’t think they would do this well.”
Both Ethridge and Barnes chalked up the underestimation to the deceptiveness of several of the Cougars, including both of the Leger-Walker sisters. Ethridge said that their body types make people wonder whether they are athletic enough or quick enough.
“And I’m just telling you that yes. And yes,” Ethridge said.
Both coaches also praised their basketball IQ and approach to the game.
“They’re very smart and deceptive,” Barnes said. “And I think they’re so organized and disciplined. They’re just, they’re hard to play against.”
Ethridge is also pleased with the development of her interior players. Bella Murekatete is still “raw” in the estimation of her coach, but her ability to block and alter shots at the rim could be very useful this week as the Cougars’ try to contain the drives to the hoop by Aari McDonald and the rest of the Wildcats. Murekatete is currently fourth in the league in blocks with 1.7 per game.
Arizona did get some relief this week when the Washington game was postponed due to COVID-19 concerns within the Huskies’ program. It was the first game the Wildcats have had affected by the pandemic this season, but it was one that would have made the road trip even more difficult.
Originally, the Wildcats were set to play the Huskies at 9 p.m. MST on Friday night. They would then have to travel to Pullman for a noon tip-off on Sunday against the Cougars. Instead, Arizona was able to stay in Tucson until Saturday, then depart on a chartered flight for their only game of the weekend.
It certainly gave the Wildcats some extra time to prepare for a team that has already beaten Oregon State and lost its only game of the year when Oregon edged the Cougars out by a mere four points.
“It’s a hard place to play, so definitely not an easy game at all,” Barnes said.
How to watch or follow the game
- Date/Time: Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021 at 12 p.m. MST
- Location: Beasley Coliseum in Pullman, Wash.
- TV: Pac-12 Networks (Pac-12 Arizona, Pac-12 Washington)
- Radio: Derrick Palmer will have the call on KTUC 1400 AM or online at TuneIn
- Stats: In-game stats are available on Arizona Live Stats
- Twitter: Follow us at @AZDesertSwarm. You can also follow our editor at @RKelapire and our reporter at @KimDoss71 for coverage during the game and throughout the season.
Our coverage this week
- The No. 18 player in the 2022 class committed to Arizona
- The Wildcats look to play inside-out instead of relying on the 3
- A Q&A with freshman post Lauren Ware
- Last weekend’s split with Stanford and Cal only cost the Wildcats one spot in the AP poll
- Arizona’s game against Washington was postponed due to COVID-19 concerns at UW