We had 11 games in five days and in the end, Washington State came out on top against UCLA, 65-61, to win their first Pac-12 Tournament title and did so as a No. 7 seed. A seed that low has never made the final and now a No. 7 seed has won.
The Cougars go where Charlisee Leger-Walker takes them. Sunday night that was toward a road never traveled on a trail she blazed herself. She was dominant, scoring 23 points on 7-of-11 shooting, and also led the team in rebounds with seven.
Leger-Walker shined, but Bella Murekatete was right there too with 21 points, four rebounds and two blocks. This guard-center combo worked like a dream and Washington State road it all the way to glory in Las Vegas.
AND FOR THE FIRST TIME THE COUGS HAVE WON THE #PAC12WBB TITLE!!!!#GoCougs | #WAZZU pic.twitter.com/c3mIZ4aMQu— WSU Cougar Women's (@WSUCougarWBB) March 6, 2023
The game was close throughout. No team ever led by double digits and even in defeat, the Bruins got a 21-point effort from Charisma Osborne and 13 from Kiki Rice. The game's turning point came in the second quarter when the Cougars went on a 16-5 run to end the first half. That gave Washington State momentum and a four-point advantage at the break.
UCLA battled on in the third and even took a one-point lead midway through the quarter, but Leger-Walker and Murekatete exchanged baskets to give the Cougars back the lead entering the fourth.
In the final quarter, Washington State closed the door on UCLA. They never gave up the lead and with five minutes left, Murekatete scored a pair of baskets and Leger-Walker hit a jumper to give the Cougars an eight-point advantage, their largest of the night. It was a championship performance and once a desperation Rice three was missed and recovered by Leger-Walker, the performance matched the result, and Washington State secured the historic win.
Before the tournament began, I said only five, maybe six teams could realistically win it. I didn't have Washington State on that list.
I was wrong.
The Cougars reminded me, and all of us, that if you play solid defense and have a couple of star players, you always have a chance. Leger-Walker and Murekatete are star players and were the best versions of themselves all week.
For UCLA, the loss will definitely sting, but there have to be some positives from this tournament. They beat Arizona and Stanford in games they were underdogs in and they were just a play or two away from their main goal. Now it's time for the Big Dance and not many teams raised their stock this week more than the Bruins.
Washington State winning is a testament to how good the Pac-12 is from top to bottom and it's very likely many of its teams will be playing late into the month. For now, Washington State will celebrate its championship as we wait to find out who will be seeded where on Sunday during the Selection Show at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.