PULLMAN, Wash. – Freshman star Charlisse Leger-Walker helped Washington State knock off its highest-ranked opponent ever.
She scored the first nine points and the final nine of the game for Washington State on Friday, as the Cougars upset No. 5 UCLA 67-63 for their first victory ever over a team ranked in the top five.
Leger-Walker, who led all scorers with 28 points, hit a 3-pointer with 42 seconds left that lifted the Cougars to a 64-63 lead they would not relinquish. She added three free throws as the Bruins failed to score again.
“It made me feel so proud for the team and where we’re headed,’” the New Zealand native said of the victory. “I’m so proud of the way we continue to improve.”
“It puts more confidence in our team to know we can get it done,” she said.
Washington State beat No. 7 Arizona last month, which led to their first ever appearance on the AP Top 25. But last week they were routed in consecutive games by No. 6 Stanford. Leger-Walker was held in check both of those losses.
“I knew we couldn’t dwell on those games,” she said. “We had to refocus.”
“It feels great to get shots up and see the ball fall through the hoop,” she said.
The game-winner came after UCLA had dominated the fourth quarter.
“My shot felt good the whole game,” Leger-Walker said. “I knew that was a good shot to take.”
Her sister, senior Krystal Leger-Walker, added 10 points for the Cougars (9-6, 7-5, Pac-12), who are enjoying their best season in years. Last month, they lost to UCLA 68-66 in overtime.
Charisma Osborne had 21 points for UCLA (10-3, 8-3), which had won five straight. Michaela Onyenwere added 16 points for the Bruins, who missed two shots in the closing seconds.
UCLA coach Cori Close said her team did not focus.
“You are not going to beat good teams in the Pac-12 if you are not locked in mentally,” she said.
She called Charlisse Leger-Walker mature beyond her years.
“She's got a very good balance of strength and aggression with skill and shooting ability,” Close said. "She's one of the best freshmen in the country."'
The Bruins led 22-16 after the first quarter despite 11 points from Charlisse Leger-Walker.
Washington State outscored the Bruins 19-13 in the second quarter for a halftime tie at 35.
The Cougars outscored UCLA 17-10 in the third, with seven points from Grace Sarver, to take a 52-45 lead. The Bruins made only 3 of 13 shots in the quarter. “We were very poor in the third quarter on offense,” Close said.
The Washington State players hoisted coach Kamie Ethridge after the game, with most of the work done by Bella Murekatete. “She is just a wild child,” Ethridge said. The coach added that she only weighed ``one hundred and plenty" pounds.
UCLA is likely to take a drop in the Top 25, while the Cougars hope to return to the poll for longer than their previous one-week stay.
The Bruins shot just 36% in the game, while Washington State shot 42.9%.
UCLA: Osborne has scored at least 20 points in the past six games, and leads the Pac-12 in scoring at 19.3 points per game. UCLA is averaging 73.7 points per game, while allowing only 58.2 points per game.
Washington State: The Cougars have their best team in years, and entered this week with a NET ranking of 35. The NET, which stands for the NCAA Evaluation Tool, is used as the primary sorting tool for selection and seeding for the NCAA tournament. Friday’s game marked the sixth time over the last eight contests that the Cougars have played a ranked foe. Charlisse Leger-Walker’s 17.9 points per game is currently the fifth-highest scoring average for a freshman in NCAA Division I.
UCLA plays at Washington on Sunday.
Washington State hosts Southern California on Sunday.
More AP women’s basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25