【rồng bạch kim】'Anything's possible': Washington St. wins 1st Pac
In one of the more improbable Power 5 conference tournament runs in recent memory, the Washington State women's basketball team clinched its first Pac-12 tournament title, taking down No. 19 UCLA, 65-61, Sunday in Las Vegas.
The No. 7 seed Cougars had already become the lowest-seeded team to ever advance to the Pac-12 tournament title game, which did not feature any of the top four seeds for the first time in the event's history. It also marked the first Pac-12 tournament championship game appearance for Washington State, which has compiled a program-record 23 wins heading into the NCAA tournament.
"Never would have thought we would be doing that," Tournament MVP Charlisse Leger-Walker said of cutting down the nets in Vegas. "That moment just felt so surreal."
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Added fifth-year coach Kamie Ethridge: "I would have never thought we could do it. I don't even think when I took the job I thought this was possible, in this kind of a league."
To secure the crown, Washington State beat four teams in five days: No. 10 seed Cal, No. 2 seed Utah, No. 3 seed Colorado, and then the No. 5 seed Bruins.
The championship marked the first Pac-12 title for any Washington State women's sports team, and, according to the Pac-12 Network, the first Pac-12 tournament crown for any Washington State team in 21 years. The men's basketball program last won a conference tournament championship more than 80 years ago.
The Cougars' win caught the attention of former Washington State men's basketball standout Klay Thompson, who posted on both Twitter and Instagram on a day his Golden State Warriors played the Los Angeles Lakers. On Instagram, the NBA veteran wrote "to say I'm proud doesn't do it justice. What these young wom[e]n have been able to accomplish is incredible and will live on forever. Go COUGS."
Huge congrats to @WSUCougarWBB! Conference champs for the first time in school history! Go Cougs!— klay thompson (@KlayThompson) March 6, 2023
Washington State was led by junior Leger-Walker's 23 points, followed by senior Bella Murekatete's 21.
With the championship in tow, the Cougars are now projected as a No. 6 seed in Charlie Creme's latest bracketology for the NCAA Tournament.
Washington State -- located in Pullman, Washington, sporting a population of 32,000 -- is thought to be one of the most difficult places to win in the Power 5.
But Ethridge, a 1986 champion as a player at Texas as well as a 1988 Olympian with Team USA, has the Cougars looking as relevant as ever in a deep Pac-12, guiding them to three consecutive NCAA tournament berths.
Building success in a place with no tradition of it, in a conference that Creme projects will have six other representatives in the NCAA tournament, is no small feat. The Pac-12 has sent six different schools to the past 10 Final Fours, the most of any conference in that span.
"That is a really hard job," UCLA coach Cori Close said. "That's a tough place to recruit to and they don't do it like everybody else. They find their own niche and they really recruit to that niche and then they execute like crazy. So credit to them. Kamie's done a heck of a job and I have a ton of respect for not only the way they play, but for the reasons in which she coaches."
Added Ethridge: "It's just a testament to anything's possible, and if you get the right people in place that believe and work and are committed to each other, you can accomplish amazing things together."
To do so, she's relied heavily on international recruiting, with nine of Ethridge's 13 players on this year's roster coming from outside the U.S.
"We came here based on the fact that we all love these coaches that we have, and we all believe that they could help us improve as people and as athletes," Australian graduate student Ula Motuga said. "And I think what we've been able to do as a testament to that."
The Cougars will look to secure the program's first NCAA tournament win later this month.