Washington State stuns No. 3 seed Colorado to make first ever Pac-12 Tournament final appearance

With both strong offense and defense, the Cougars defeated the Buffaloes to clinch a spot in the championship game.

A Washington State defender is blocking a Colorado player's shot. The WSU player is wearing a crimson uniform while the Colorado player is wearing white.

The underdogs struck again in another historic night for Washington State.

One day after shocking Utah, WSU pulled off another win. The No. 7 seed Cougars extended their remarkable run in the Pac-12 Tournament, stunning the No. 3 seed Buffaloes with a 61-49 victory Friday at Michelob ULTRA arena.

For the first time ever, WSU is headed to the Pac-12 Tournament championship game.

“I can’t even express how thrilled I am for our program,” WSU Head Coach Kamie Ethridge said. “We have worked a long time to put ourselves in a position to advance, and to do it to the championship is really exciting.”

The game was smooth for the Cougars in the first quarter; with a stellar defense and a well-established attack, WSU took off 11-6. With two seconds left on the clock, freshman guard Astera Tuhina shot a 3-point jumper. The ball bounced on the rim and banked in with the buzzer sound.

Danger came in the second quarter from Colorado senior guard Jaylyn Sherrod, actively dribbling through the key, delivering assists and cutting through passes to pick up steals. But Sherrod’s performance could not save Colorado from its poor shooting, 31.8% from the field and 20% from behind the arc in the first half.

Washington State claimed its largest lead, 16 points, early in the third quarter. The Cougars’ advantage vanished as fast as it was built, surrendering a 20-4 run to the Buffaloes, wrapping the third quarter 38-38.

“It was urgent to not keep self-inflicting ourselves with turnovers or bad decisions,” Ethridge said. “It felt like there were seven of them on the court, and we were just kind of out of sync and out of rhythm.”

Amid angst, stress and the loud support of fans, the fourth quarter began. But this time, all had to be redone. Colorado tied the score again at 41-41. The Cougars went on its game-deciding run with 6:17 to go.

Senior center Bella Murekatete dove for a loose ball, got the ball back to sophomore guard Tara Wallack behind the arc and passed to senior guard Johanna Teder, who rifled to an open fifth-year forward Ula Motuga. She buried a 3-pointer, giving the lead back to the Cougars.

The Buffaloes never tied it again. WSU went on shooting 6 free throws from Tuhina, Wallack and junior guard Charlisse Leger-Walker. One last rebound from freshman guard Kyra Gardner sent the Cougars into the final.

“It was the most stressful moment ever,” Murekatete said. “I’m just so glad that the clock went to zero.”

Washington State pulled off an impressive team win. Leger-Walker scored 15 points, Murekatete put up 12 points and 8 rebounds, Tuhina had 10 points and Motuga finished with 9 points herself.

For Colorado, sophomore center Aaronette Vonleh had 18 points and junior guard Frida Formann had 11. Sherrod almost changed the course of the game by herself with 13 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists and 6 steals, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Cougars from clinching the win.

Washington State will face an even tougher challenge Sunday at 2 p.m., facing the UCLA Bruins. But if the Cougars proved one thing, it’s that underdogs should not be underestimated.

“I just think back on when we got these guys to sign with us, all they had was a vision, all they had was our words of what we could accomplish over time,” Ethridge said. “It is beyond belief that we are here, knowing where we’ve come from.”

“This is the greatest ride I’ve been on with a team,” Ethridge said, “so I’m going to just sit back and keep riding it.”