Washington State women win first round of WBIT

Mar. 21—PULLMAN — Washington State's whole was less than the sum of its parts for much of an unexpectedly tough second half against Lamar.

Enough of the parts came through in a timely manner, however, to allow the Cougars to fend off the determined Cardinals and pull away late for a 66-46 first-round win in the inaugural Women's Basketball Invitation Tournament. The Cougars go on to host to Santa Clara on Sunday. The Broncos beat BYU 60-59.

Turnovers hobbled Lamar early, and the Cougars' efficient perimeter shooting allowed WSU to sprint to a 14-4 run to open the game. They closed the first quarter leading 21-8. The Cardinals spent the first half trying to reduce that lead, to little avail. At halftime, WSU led 34-24, paced by Krya Gardner's eight points.

"We had a bad start. You can't give up 21 points. We got behind 21-8," Lamar coach Aqua Franklin said.

But in the third quarter, Lamar's aggressive defense and effective press allowed it to surge back into contention. It trimmed the deficit to 44-40, near the close of the quarter before Jenna Villa came up big for the Cougars with a timely 3-pointer with a minute remaining, extending WSU's lead to 47-40 at the end of the quarter.

"We finally settled in," Franklin said of the Cardinals' comeback. The game against the Cougars was the first postseason play for anyone on her roster, Franklin pointed out. "We started to play our brand of basketball, defense first."

WSU harassed Lamar into 13 turnovers but committed 19, which drew the disapproving attention of WSU coach Kamie Ethridge.

"The turnovers were big. We left a lot of points out there," she said.

WSU could not have remained in this game without Beyonce Bea's rebounding. The graduate transfer from Idaho only scored two points, but she grabbed 10 rebounds, including four on the offensive glass. She also made a steal and had a block.

Ethridge said Bea "played great at the defensive end. There were a lot of offensive rebounds. We're better because she's on the floor."

The Cougars were also bailed out by their effective three-point shooting. They hit 10 of 21 shots from the arc, led by Tara Wallack, who was 3 of 5 from there. She led all scorers with 15 points. None of her threes were more important than the back-to-back pair she connected on with WSU clinging to an uncomfortable 47-42 lead.

"Tara Wallack made some huge threes for us," said Ethridge.

Wallack said of WSU's victory "we want to keep playing in March to prove we are an NCAA team."

Lamar had a pair of scorers in double figures. Jacel Denley buried six mid-range jumpers for 12 points, and Akasha Davis followed with 10 from the paint.

Eleonora Villa backed Wallack with 12 points for WSU. Astera Tuhina added nine, and after being held to a single basket in the first half, Bella Murekatete escaped the defensive attention of Davis, and some double-team help, to finish with eight points for WSU. Gardner also scored eight for the Cougars, all in the first half.

For the game, WSU connected on 23 of 51 shots from the floor, 45.1 percent.

Lamar was 21 of 61, 34.4 percent.

"They didn't have too many three-point shooters," Ethridge said.

"We're a little bigger and longer...That probably hurt their shooting percentage."

As the Cougars look ahead to Sunday, Wallack, one of the most timely parts in the sum of WSU's difficult first-round win, said the opportunity to advance to the second round Sunday "is just another chance to play in front of the best fans. It is just another chance to get another win."