Washington State was on the verge of starting the Pac-12 season women's basketball season 2-0, including an upset of No. 11 Oregon State on the Beavers’ home court.
But the Cougars were unable to make a late four-point lead hold up and the Beavers rallied with a 15-4 run for a 76-69 win.
First-year Washington State coach Kami Ethridge, who took the blame for calling plays that the Cougars weren’t as prepared for as she thought, did appreciate the competitive spirit her team played with throughout the game.
Ethridge and star player and leading scorer Borislava Hristova admitted the Cougars didn’t start the season with, as Hristova put it, much of a “hunger.”
“The team is finding ways to win games, how to be successful, how tough it is and that we actually have to be a strong, tough team to be good in the Pac-12,” Hristova said after Friday’s loss to the Beavers.
Added Ethridge: “We’ve just shown incredible strides on just that, the effort side of it. I’m more concerned about that.”
The Cougars wrapped up the weekend with a lopsided 98-58 loss at Oregon to fall to 1-2 in conference play with all three games on the road.
While it was a tough road trip this past weekend, it gave Ethridge, who came to Pullman after coaching Northern Colorado to the NCAA tournament last season, and the players an opportunity to see what it takes to be in the upper echelon of the conference.
“They’re the kind of programs we aspire to be,” Ethridge said Friday night of Oregon State and Oregon. “What they’ve done, how they’ve built it, I just respect the heck out of (Oregon State coach) Scott (Rueck) and the kind of kids he recruits and the high character and how they play and how they compete. And obviously this environment and what he’s built here is amazing.
“So what a great opportunity for us to walk into these environments and compete against top-10 programs and see where we stand and see if we're getting better in the right areas to give us a better chance to be more competitive.”
Rueck expects Ethridge to have success in the conference.
“Once again we’ve added an excellent coach to our conference, and what that means is a proven coach that has a system, knows who she is as a coach, knows what works and what doesn’t already at this level,” he said.
“I think their system is sound. They did a good job keeping us out of transition and then offensively they went to their strengths the whole time. They didn’t shoot weird shots, they took care of the ball and when you’re doing those things you’re going to give yourself a chance to win most nights.”
It’s been a tough season and a half for Washington, which has started this Pac-12 season 0-3 after going just 1-17 last season under first-year coach Jody Wynn.
Washington lost a 79-76 decision at home against rival Washington State on Dec. 30, before being swept by the Oregon schools this weekend.
Wynn said Sunday she felt much better about her team’s effort this weekend than she did against the Cougars and in losses to Mississippi State and Boise State before that.
“I don’t know if you would call this a morale victory or not but for us it’s just playing hard and getting that identity back that we’re just going to play hard,” Wynn said after Sunday’s 78-67 loss to the Beavers. “I don’t think we did that for three games prior.”
Washington was tied at 66 at Oregon on Friday before the Ducks closed the game on an 18-5 run. The Huskies were within four in the third quarter at Oregon State on Sunday before the Beavers used a 24-7 run to break the game open.
“So for us, competing against both of these universities in two of the toughest environments in the country to play in right off the bat, I’m proud of how we responded from our first Pac-12 game,” Wynn said.
In addition to Oregon State losing junior guard Kat Tudor for the season to a knee injury, several other Pac-12 teams are also dealing with key losses.
Stanford’s Nadia Fingall and Utah’s Daneesha Provo are also out for the season with knee issues.
Fingall, a forward, was averaging eight points and six rebounds while making 12 starts for the Cardinal. Provo, a guard, was averaging 13.5 points per game in 13 starts for the Utes, second behind the 19.3 of Megan Huff.
After the first full weekend of the season, only Oregon, Stanford and Oregon State remain undefeated in conference play. All three are 2-0.
UCLA, Utah, Arizona and Arizona State are all 2-1 while Colorado, USC and Washington are all 0-3. California is 1-1 and Washington State 1-2. Eight of the 12 teams opened the season on Dec. 30.
The three undefeated teams all opened at home and must hit the road this week — the Oregon schools are at the L.A. schools and Stanford heads to the Arizona schools.
Oregon remained No. 5 in this week’s Associated Press poll with Stanford No. 6 and Oregon State up one spot at No. 10. Arizona State is No. 19 and California No. 24 with Utah receiving two votes.
Players of the week
Arizona’s Aari McDonald was named the player of the week after averaging 33 points and eight rebounds a game as the Wildcats split with the Mountain schools. It’s her third honor this season.
Utah’s Dru Gylten was named the freshman of the week for the second time after averaging 8.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and six assists in splitting with the Arizona schools.