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Cougars buck the Broncos in Women's Basketball Invitation Tournament

Mar. 25—PULLMAN — After failing to qualify for what would've been its fourth straight NCAA tournament, the Washington State women's basketball team is on a mission to show it shouldn't have been left out of the Big Dance.

Through two games in the Women's Basketball Invitation Tournament, the top-seeded Cougars (20-14) are destroying their competition by 23 points per game.

Their latest victims were the fourth-seeded Santa Clara Broncos (25-9), who the Cougs walloped 73-47 on Sunday at Beasley Coliseum.

"I think as this season and this tournament goes on, you have that little fog hanging over you for not making the (NCAA) tournament, and then getting a win kind of starts making you feel better about yourself and feeling more hopeful," WSU coach Kamie Ethridge said. "And now this win really I think has our team excited."

Everybody gets a slice

Part of doing these postseason tournaments — in addition to hopefully hoisting a trophy at the end — is to get younger players some experience for next season.

On Sunday, all nine players who saw the court for WSU scored.

Sophomore guard Astera Tuhina led the balanced scoring with 14 points. Joining her in double figures off the bench were sophomore guard Kyra Gardner (11 points) and senior center Jessica Clarke (10).

Junior guard Tara Wallack chipped in nine points and senior forward Beyonce Bea had a game-high 11 rebounds to go along with eight points.

At times this season, WSU has struggled to get its offense rolling after losing star guard Charlisse Leger-Walker to a season-ending knee injury in January. The Cougars have occasionally received zero points from their bench.

They had 27 bench points against the Broncos.

"This is why this tournament is so key for these players getting more practice time, getting more reps in practice, and obviously getting to compete at a high level," Ethridge said. "Anytime you can get your whole team scoring, it probably bodes well for your team."

A 30-point quarter

A 22-22 tie in the second quarter was left in the rearview mirror after WSU went into halftime on a 10-2 run. The Broncos never recovered, but it wasn't until the fourth quarter that the Cougars really turned up the juice. WSU scored 30 points in the fourth quarter as their double-digit lead rose to 26 points.

Back-to-back 3-pointers by Gardner and Tuhina, and then a steal and fast-break layup by Tuhina made it 69-43 and brought the Pullman crowd to its feet.

"Washington State was big, they were physical and they wore us down," Santa Clara coach Bill Carr said. "We didn't get many easy shots. Today, Washington State did a really good job of taking us out of what we wanted to do."

The Broncos received 18 points from their star player, guard Tess Heal, but she needed 21 shot attempts to reach that mark and no other teammate reached double figures.

The showdown against Santa Clara could also pose as a preview for at least the next two seasons when WSU will join the Broncos in the West Coast Conference for basketball and most other non-football sports.

Up next

The luxury of being a top seed in the tournament is the Cougars get to keep sleeping in their own beds.

WSU will host its third straight WBIT game against No. 2 seed Toledo at 6 p.m. Thursday (ESPN+) back at Beasley Coliseum.

The Rockets (28-5) missed out on going to a second straight NCAA tournament after falling to Buffalo in overtime in the Mid-America tournament championship.

"They won't be afraid of any kind of situation they walk into, so we're going to have to play our best basketball," Ethridge said. "(They're) a team that wins 28, 27 (games) almost every year, so they have a rich tradition of winning."

SANTA CLARA (25-9)

Tess Heal 8-21 2-3 18, Olivia Pollerd 4-14 0-0 8, Lara Edmanson 3-8 0-0 7, Jayde Cadee 2-5 0-0 6, Ashley Hiraki 0-2 0-0 0, Marya Hudgins 1-2 0-0 2, Madison Naro 1-4 0-0 2, Emma Shaffer 1-3 0-0 2, Malia Latu 1-2 0-0 2, Georgia Grigoropoulou 0-0 0-0 0, Danja Stafford 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 21-63 2-3 47.

WASHINGTON ST. (20-14)

Astera Tuhina 6-15 0-0 14, Tara Wallack 3-9 2-2 9, Beyonce Bea 4-9 0-0 8, Bella Murekatete 2-5 4-4 8, Eleonora Villa 3-6 0-0 7, Kyra Gardner 4-8 0-0 11, Jessica Clarke 5-6 0-0 10, Alex Covill 2-6 0-0 4, Jenna Villa 0-2 2-2 2.. Totals 29-66 8-8 73

Santa Clara 14 10 8 15—47

Washington St. 18 14 11 30—73

3-Point Goals — Santa Clara 3-21 (Heal 0-3, Pollerd 0-7, Edmanson 1-4, Cadee 2-4, Hiraki 0-1, Naro 0-1, Stafford 0-1), Washington St. 7-17 (Tuhina 2-5, Wallack 1-2, E. Villa 1-2, Gardner 3-6, J. Villa 0-2). Rebounds — Santa Clara 32 (Pollerd 5), Washington St. 44 (Bea 11). Assists — Santa Clara 8 (Heal 4), Washington St. 17 (Murekatete, Gardner 4). Total Fouls — Santa Clara 10, Washington St. 7. Fouled Out — Murekatete. Attendance — 674.

Wiebe may be contacted at (208) 848-2260, swiebe@lmtribune.com or on Twitter @StephanSports.