Cougs are Ready to Dance for the First Time in 30 Years on Sunday vs. South Florida
AUSTIN, Texas – The Washington State women's basketball team makes its long-awaited return to the NCAA Tournament this Sunday, March 21, as the No. 9-seed Cougars take on No. 8-seed South Florida in a first-round matchup in Austin, Texas. Tip-off from the Frank Erwin Center is set for 6:30 p.m. PT and will air live on ESPN 2.
No. 9-seed WASHINGTON STATE (12-11) vs. No. 8-seed South Florida (15-4) | Sunday, March 21 | 6:30 p.m. PT | Austin, Texas (Erwin Center)
Live Stats | WSUCougars.com
Watch | ESPN 2 (Kevin Fitzgerald and Christy Thomascutty)
Listen | WSU IMG Radio Network (Steve Grubbs)
>> The Cougars earned their first at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 30 seasons, after going 12-11 in 2020-21. It marks the sixth winning season for Washington State during the NCAA era. WSU was picked last in the Pac-12 preseason polls, but finished league play with nine conference wins. The nine Pac-12 victories tied for the second-most conference wins in a single season in WSU history. The Cougs ended the season with a NET ranking of 45 and collected a pair of wins against top-10 teams during the season to help them earn an at-large bid.
>> The Washington State women's basketball team punched its ticket into the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in program history by earning a No. 9 seed in the Mercado Region. It marks the first time since the 1990-91 season that the Cougars earned a bid into The Big Dance. WSU was selected as the No. 11-seed in the Midwest Region in the 1991 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament. It was a short-stay of the Cougs, as they were knocked out in the first round after falling to No. 6-seed Northwestern, 82-62, in Evanston, Illinois.
>> Sunday's contest will mark the second time that Washington State and South Florida have met on the hardwood. The last time the two teams played one another came on Nov. 24, 2017 at the Gulf Coast Showcase in Ft. Meyers, Florida. USF claimed the 82-45 victory.
>> The first-round matchup at the Erwin Center will be a reunion of sorts for WSU head coach Kamie Ethridge, as the Women's Basketball Hall of Famer returns to the arena that made her a living-legend for the first time as a head coach. Ethridge was a star point guard at University of Texas from 1982-86 and led the Longhorns to the first undefeated season (34-0) in NCAA Division I women's basketball history and a national championship in her senior season. Ethridge is Texas' all-time assist leader with 776 assists and her No. 33 jersey hangs in the rafters at the Erwin Center.
>> Washington State is an even 4-4 in the postgame during the NCAA era. The Cougs are 4-3 in WNIT and 0-1 in the NCAA Tournament. The last time WSU made the postseason came during the 2016-17 season when the Cougars earned a bid into the WNIT. Washington State had a successful run in the 2017 WNIT, as the Cougs advanced all the way to the tournament's final four.
Historic First Season
Freshman Charlisse Leger-Walker had arguably one of the best freshmen seasons in Washington State history, as the Waikato, New Zealand native became the first freshman in Pac-12 women's basketball history to end the regular season as the Pac-12's leader in total points, scoring 434 points in 23 games. Leger-Walker also set the WSU freshman record for most 20-point games, scoring 20-or-more points in 12 games. The 5-11 guard was named the 2020-21 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and earned a program-record seven Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors during the season. Her seven weekly freshman conference honors tie her with Kelsey Plum for the second-most Pac-12 Freshman of the Week awards won in conference history.
Dominant Sister Duo
The Leger-Walker sister duo has made headlines all season for Washington State, and rightfully so, as they are the first pair of sisters in Pac-12 history to end the regular season leading the conference in total points and assists. Freshman Charlisse Leger-Walker currently leads the Pac-12 in total points with 434 points scored, while redshirt senior Krystal Leger-Walker's 106 assists is tops in the conference.
Sophomore Bella Murekatete hit the glass hard during the Pac-12 Tournament, as the 6-3 sophomore collected double-digit rebounds in both of her games in Las Vegas. Murekatete opened the tournament with a 12-rebound performance in a win over Utah, then followed that up with a 10-carom effort against Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament Quarterfinals. The Rwanda native has collected double-digit rebounds in three games this season.
Connecting from Deep
The Cougs currently rank second in the Pac-12 in 3-point field goals made with 164 shots made from behind the arc. WSU has made five-or-more 3-pointers in each of its last 15 games. Freshman Charlisse Leger-Walker is currently third in the Pac-12 in 3-point field goals made with 55.
Scouting the Bulls
South Florida will be playing in its seventh NCAA Tournament history and will be participating in the Big Dance for the first time since the 2017-18 season. The Bulls comes into Sunday's contest fresh-off their first American Athletic Conference (AAC) Tournament title in program history. USF also won the AAC regular season championship, was it went 18-3 overall and 12-2 in league play during the 2020-21 season. South Florida has spent the majority of the season ranked in both the Associated Press and USA Today/WBCA Coaches Poll, checking in at No. 19 in the AP poll and No. 18 in the Coaches poll.
Sophomore Elena Tsineke leads trio of double-digit scorers for USF, as the 5-7 guards is averaging 12.9 points per game. Tsineke was one of Bulls to earn All-AAC first team honors, and she is joined by senior Bethy Mununga, who averages a double-double at 13.2 rebounds and 10.1 points per game. The 6-0 post pulled down 15-or-more rebounds in all three of her games at the AAC Tournament, and has recorded two games with 20-plus rebounds this season. Junior Sydni Harvey rounds out the group of double-digit scorers for USF at 11.9 points per game.
As a team, South Florida averaged 65.7 points per game on a 37.0 percent shooting percentage. The Bulls have made it tough for teams defensively, as USF is averaging 54.4 points per game, while limiting teams to a 35.1 percent success-rate from the field. The Bulls have been stingy from the three-point line, as teams are only shooting 24 percent from behind the arc against them. South Florida has been elite as a team on the glass this season, averaging 44.0 caroms per game, while posting a +9.9-team rebound margin.
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