Cougs claw back to beat Colorado 79-78 at Pac-12 tournament - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Cougs claw back to beat Colorado 79-78 at Pac-12 tournament

Photo: WSU Athletics Photo: WSU Athletics

WSU Athletics

SEATTLE, Wash. - Survive and advance is all that matters come March and the Cougars did just that as Washington State erased a 14-point first quarter deficit to defeat Colorado, 79-78, in the first round of the 2017 Pac-12 Championship tournament. The win for Washington State (12-18) marked the fifth time the Cougs had advanced to the tournaments quarterfinals while handing the Buffs (15-15) a second-straight loss in less than one week. The comeback from 14-points down tied for the fourth-largest rally for the Cougs in program history as WSU stormed into the second round of tournament.

For the Cougs, the night could not have started worse as Colorado jumped out to a 23-9 lead just seven minutes into the contest. Shell shocked, the Cougs burned two of their four timeouts in the opening period in an attempt to stop the game from completely getting away from them. The timeouts and the quarter break would prove to be enough to stem the tides of disaster as the Cougs found whatever it was that was missing in the second quarter.

Hitting a gear that has only been seen a few times throughout the season, the Cougs went on a tear to start the second quarter on both ends of the floor. Led by the suddenly scorching hot hand of sophomore Alexys Swedlund, WSU put together an epic run that saw the Cougs score the quarter's first 17 points. In the run, Swedlund put on her own show with 10-straight for the Cougs that helped turn a 12-point quarter deficit into a quick five-point lead. In addition to blistering the net on the offensive end, the Cougs clamped down defensively, holding the Buffs without a point for the first seven minutes of the second quarter to turn the game on its head. In all, the Cougs would outscore the Buffs 24-8 in the second quarter to lead by four at the break.

Fatefully for the Cougs, the lead would never change hands after the 17-0 run in the second as WSU was able to hold off the Buffs despite Colorado's best efforts that included Colorado hitting 8-of-13 three-point attempts in the second half. Five of those threes came in the third quarter alone as the two teams put on a shooting clinic from deep that saw the two sides combine for an 11-for-13 showing from behind the arc. Colorado would use the deep ball in the fourth to make the contest a nail-biter late as the Buffs cut a six-point Cougar lead to just one with seconds to play before WSU was able to survive a last second scare to take the victory. In all, the Cougs' Achilles Heel proved to be their savior in the game's waning moments as junior Caila Hailey calmly nailed a pair of free throws with :17 seconds to play which turned out to be the difference in the game. While Hailey hit her free throws, the Buffs could not convert their own as the game-tying attempt missed off the right-side of the rim. Colorado would get a second crack at pulling off the upset of the Cougs when they were awarded the ball off of an inadvertent whistle after the missed free throw. However, the Cougs' defense held strong to force another missed shot with Hailey clearing the rebound and running out the clock down the sideline.

Leading the way, Swedlund's huge second quarter led to a career effort for the second-year sharpshooter as she finished the night with a game-high 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting. She would hit 4-of-6 from deep to lead a Cougar attack that drilled 10-of-17 from distance. Hailey, the savior at the line, finished her night with a career-best 17 points including a 7-for-10 showing from the charity stripe. Freshman Kayla Washington just missed her first career double-double as the California native matched her career high with 12 points to go with nine rebounds. Junior Pinelopi Pavlopoulou round out the Cougs' scoring with 10 points including hitting a career-high 3-of-4 from deep. Redshirt-sophomore Nike McClure continued to make her presence felt on the floor in other ways than scoring as she finished her night with nine rebounds to go with three blocks and two steals. Her three blocks moved her season total to an all-time single season record 60 for the Cougs.

On the other end of the court, the Buffs put four in double-figures led by 21 from Haley Smith. Alexis Robinson added 17 while Ariana Freeman chipped in 16. Makenzy Ellis tallied 11 point to go with five rebounds and three steals. Despite the efforts of the rest of the Buffs, the Cougs were able to get the win by holding All-Pac-12 performer and Colorado's leading scorer, Kennedy Leonard, in check throughout the night. Leonard, with Hailey and the rest of the Cougs' perimeter defenders draped on her most of the night finished with just eight points on 3-of-13 shooting.

In all, the Buffs finished the game shooting 49.2% while the Cougs were even better at a season-best 52.7%. The 52.7% shooting from the field also marked a tournament record for the Cougs, blasting the previous high of 48.3% set in the 2016 edition of the tournament.

The Cougs will now face No. 2 seed and nationally ranked Stanford Cardinal in the tournament's second round. The quarterfinal contest is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Keyarena. 

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