'I want to play as long as I can': WSU women embrace WBIT, romp Santa Clara 73-47

Mar. 24—Shorter on talent than on heart, Santa Clara was within five points of Washington State with 4 minutes, 36 seconds to play in the third quarter.

But the Cougars stepped on the gas, laid down rubber and scorched the Broncos with a 14-0 run in the closing five minutes of the game for a 73-47 win in the second round of the inaugural Women's Basketball Invitation Tournament. WSU will play host to Toledo Thursday in the quarterfinals.

"At the end there, they just wore us out," Santa Clara coach Bill Carr acknowledged.

In apparent agreement, WSU coach Kamie Ethridge pointed to the greatest disparity in the match up, the Cougars' advantage in points off the bench, 27-8.

"Twenty-seven points from our bench. I couldn't think of a bigger stat for our team," she said.

Tess Heal led all scorers with 18 points for Santa Clara, but while she was the Broncos' best offensive option, Carr admitted the dogged Cougars defense made her less than a decisive one. Heal put up 21 shots to get those points and connected on just eight. Her three tries from beyond the arc came up empty.

"We cut it to five ... but again, they run their stuff, they know where the ball needs to go," Carr said of WSU's ability to dominate the final period.

Noted WSU senior Beyonce Bea: "We got into the second half, the fourth quarter, and everyone was sharing the ball. It felt really good."

Kyra Gardner knocked down a pair of 3-pointers during WSU's fourth-quarter run.

"The fourth quarter was a shot of adrenaline. We were sharing the ball well. A lot of assists," she said.

The Cougars got contributions from all over the roster. Astera Tuhina led them with 14 points. Gardner added 11, along with Jessica Clarke, 10; Tara Wallack, nine; and Bea and Bella Murekatete eight apiece. Bea grabbed 11 rebounds in leading WSU to a definitive advantage on the glass, 44-32.

Santa Clara enjoyed one short-lived lead, 14-13, but the Cougars set the pace. They outscored the Broncos in every quarter and owned the final period, 30-15.

WSU won its first-round game against Lamar, 66-46, and Ethridge said of the defensive effort in both games: "I love that we held two teams to the 40s."

WSU converted 29 of 66 attempts from the floor, including seven of 17 three-pointers. Cougars' defenders throttled Santa Clara into anemic 33.3 % shooting, 21 of 63. They challenged the Broncos on the perimeter throughout the game. Santa Clara made an effort to get its offense going but it converted just 3 of 21 attempts from the arc.

Both coaches had only praise for the WBIT format. Carr said his team should embrace being able to play in the postseason.

"They've got to understand that and be proud that we were playing on March 24."

The Broncos' two-game tournament run gave him a chance to prolong a season with a team he said is special.

"This group was really connected throughout the year," he said.

Carr called the WBIT "a fabulous event ... I hope nobody passes up playing in this tournament."

Ethridge acknowledged that "there is a little fog hanging over you" after not making the (NCAA) tournament.

"You win a game, you feel better," she said. "Making the postseason is a benefit for your program, I don't care what tournament you are in."

She added with the win over Santa Clara the Cougars have been able to post a 20-win season (20-14) heading into their third-round game Thursday against Toledo. Santa Clara closes the year 25-9.

For Bea, a graduate transfer from the University of Idaho, the WBIT experience with the Cougars is a welcome conclusion to a career.

With the Vandals, she said, "I never got to play in a postseason tournament. This is awesome. I want to play as long as I can."