Going into the season, everyone would have expected a game between the Arizona Wildcats and Oregon Ducks to be for second place in the league. What few expected was for Arizona to be playing Washington State for that honor with more than a quarter of the season played. Yet, here they were.
It looked like it would be no-contest, as Arizona rushed out to a 16-point lead in the first half. The Cougars showed why they’re a threat, though, by coming out of the half and taking it to the Wildcats. An Arizona collapse in the second half gave the Cougars their first win over a Top 10 team since 2017 with the 71-69 victory in overtime.
Reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Week Charlisse Leger-Walker sank a reverse layup to send the game to overtime and later hit a runner at the buzzer for the win.
With the victory, Washington State claimed sole possession of second place in the Pac-12 at 5-1 in the conference and 7-1 overall. Arizona fell to 6-2 in league play and 8-2 overall.
Cate Reese came out on a mission, scoring seven of the Wildcats’ first nine points, but it was All-American Aari McDonald who controlled things for most of the first half.
McDonald came on strong with 13 points in the first half as Reese sat out 10 minutes with foul trouble. With a half still to go, McDonald had her 76th straight game in double figures. She was also leading the game in assists and tied for the lead in rebounds.
McDonald wrapped things up with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists, but also six turnovers. Four of those turnovers came in the second half.
On the defensive end, the Wildcats were holding Charlisse Leger-Walker in check over the first half. The Arizona defense allowed the conference’s leading scorer just three points on 1-4 shooting over the first 10 minutes.
WSU wasn’t ready to let it go, though. The Wildcats’ efficiency cratered in the third quarter. After shooting 48.4 percent in the first half, they shot 5-14 in the third quarter and 8-30 in the second half.
“Charlisse had a great second half,” McDonald said. “We couldn’t get stops and also we couldn’t even score, so I mean turnovers and just not executing.”
Sam Thomas did most of the scoring in the third, but was hit by her fourth foul in the first 20 seconds of the fourth.
It only got worse in the final quarter, as Arizona’s only scoring in the first five minutes was a pair of free throws from Trinity Baptiste. At the 4:55 media timeout, WSU had closed the gap to a single bucket.
“A lot of stalling the ball, kind of looking to give it to Aari,” Arizona head coach Adia Barnes said. “I thought Aari had a lot of drives to the basket miss, but we can’t just like pound the ball to her. It’s just really bad offense in the second half.”
Meanwhile, Charlisse Leger-Walker was getting to the free throw line. The outstanding freshman went 3-4 from the line in the second half, scoring 10 in the final 20 minutes of regulation. She ended the day with 17 points, 3 rebounds and 5 assists.
Krystal Leger-Walker had 14 points, 4 rebounds and 9 assists, showing the danger of the sister duo.
After two missed free throws by Reese and with a mere five seconds on the clock, Charlisse Leger-Walker drove to the hoop and tied it up. Overtime.
“I’m just so proud of the way we came back,” Charlisse Leger-Walker said. “Played one play at a time, really just ground it out on defense trying to get stops. And then we were able to come on the offensive end.”
There would be no Thomas for the final five minutes, and the Cougars would also be without Bella Murekatete, who led WSU with 14 points in regulation. Both fouled out in the fourth.
It was all Cougars to start overtime. They took their first lead of the game with 3:26 to go, eventually pushing it to five points. McDonald tied things up with two free throws with 10.5 seconds to go before Charlisse Leger-Walker’s last-second heroics.
“You don’t have to be a very smart coach at all to just get the ball into Charlisse’s hands and give her space and let her at least attack the rim and try to get a shot at the buzzer,” Washington State head coach Kamie Ethridge said about the final shot. “And, obviously, that was the plan both at the end of regulation that she took to send it to overtime and then that one.”