Kiwi Charlisse Leger-Walker leads Washington State to history-making Pac-12 title

Kiwi Charlisse Leger-Walker led Washington State to a historic Pac-12 tournament title in Las Vegas.

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Kiwi Charlisse Leger-Walker led Washington State to a historic Pac-12 tournament title in Las Vegas.

Kiwi-hoop phenom Charlisse Leger-Walker was left speechless, if not down on points, after her recent notable act on the American collegiate athletic landscape.

The 21-year-old Waikato basketballer dropped a game-high 23 points to lead her Washington State Cougars to a history-making 65-61 win over UCLA in Monday’s (NZT) Pac-12 Conference Tournament Finals in Las Vegas.

Not only was it Washington State’s first-ever Pac-12 women’s title in 21 years in conference, but they became the first WSU Hoops team — women or men — in 82 years to win a conference tournament championship title.

“We just believed so much in getting into this game,” said an enthusiastic Leger-Walker afterwards. “This team is legit. We proved ourselves day after day and just played so hard today. I’m so proud of everyone.”

* Charlisse Leger-Walker plays an influential role in helping the US collegiate team make basketball history
* Tall Fern Charlisse Leger-Walker is a finalist for the prestigious College Hoops Award
* Kiwi basketball star Charlisse Leger-Walker was named Pac-12 Conference Player of the Week

The Tall Ferns guard, as always, was a central figure as the Cougars became the first No. 7 to win the conference tournament since it started in 2002 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, a block and a steal.

When asked by the court interviewer if she had any sense of what the success means for the Cougars program, Leger-Walker said, “To all the Cougs out there, we love your support. We know we have such a large community behind us. We’re just so happy to be able to get this dub for you guys.

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“Oh my god, there are literally no words … I’m so happy right now.”

Charlisse Leger-Walker has gone from youngest major fern to star at Washington State University.

Phil Walter/Getty Images

Charlisse Leger-Walker has gone from youngest major fern to star at Washington State University.

Leger-Walker also received the ultimate compliment from teammate Bella Murekatete, as the Rwandan center mirrored her own contribution (21 points on 8-of-11 shooting) to the performance.

“I started the third quarter so badly and tried to force everything,” she said. “I had to remember to trust my teammates and trust the best guard in this nation right now (Leger-Walker). We did everything together as a team. This team has proved everyone wrong in every game.”

Washington State had to earn the win in a contest that saw 14 lead changes. They were 18-14 down after one, leading 32-28 at halftime and leading just 44-42 at the final break.

Leger-Walker had made all five of her triples in the first three periods but was clinging about the run home as she converted a few buckets to backdoor cuts to keep the Cougars in the climb. She also made one of two free throws with 21 seconds left to knock out WSU with three (64-61) and gave her team crucial possession when UCLA’s Charisma Osborne fended off an attempted game equalizer late in the play three.

The tournament success caps a turbulent season for the New Zealander, who has returned to New Zealand twice to attend to personal matters.

She is part of a United Nations team at WSU put together by coach Kamie Ethridge. Joining the Kiwis in the starting XI are Rwanda’s Murekatete, Canada’s Tara Wallack, Australia’s Ula Motuga and Estonia’s Johanna Teder, while Astera Teder of Kosovo is a key figure off the bench.

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Last week, Leger-Walker earned an All-Pac 12 selection for the third time in her career — becoming only the second player in program history to achieve that honor for the third time in her career. Ethridge has predicted her New Zealand guard will become only the second Kiwi to play in the WNBA.

The win also earns the Cougars an NCAA tournament seat — their third straight appearance at the event since Leger-Walker joined the program.

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