WSU headed to WNIT Final Four; defeated Iowa 74-66 in quarterfin - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

WSU headed to WNIT Final Four; defeated Iowa 74-66 in quarterfinals

Photo: WSU Athletics Photo: WSU Athletics

WSU Athletics

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Playing in a hostile environment after traveling over halfway across the country, the Washington State women's basketball team punched its ticket to the Women's National Invitational Tournament Final Four with a hard-fought, 74-66, win over Iowa Sunday afternoon. The Cougars (16-19) continued their historic postseason run with their fourth-straight victory, their longest streak of the year, while handing the Hawkeyes (20-14) just their fourth loss in 21 games at home at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

As they have done all postseason, the Cougs were led by their guards as Alexys Swedlund scored a game-high 20 points while the junior duo of Pinelopi Pavlopoulou and Caila Hailey put together double-double performances. For Pavlopoulou, the Athens native finished her day with 13 points to go with a career-best 11 rebounds for her first-career double-double while Hailey added 10 points to go with a career-high 12 rebounds for her second double-double of the season. The pair of double-doubles marked the first time since the 2015 season the Cougs had a pair finish the feat when Mariah Cooks (13 pts, 18 rbd) and Lia Galdeira (11 pts, 12 rbd) did it against USC. Not to be outdone, the Cougs' lone senior, Ivana Kmetovska, kept her career alive with a 14 point and six rebound effort as she kept herself out of foul trouble and in the game.

In addition to Swedlund's second-consecutive and sixth 20-point game of the year, the sophomore also set the Cougs' all-time single season three-point record midway through the second quarter when she buried her 70th triple on the year. The second-year gunner shot her way past Cougar great Tricia Lamb's 1998-98 campaign during which she hit 69 from distance. Swedlund's record three was the cap on an 11-2 run by the Cougs to end the first and start the second quarter that changed the complexion of the contest. 

The Cougs run came in response to a 12-0 run by the Hawkeyes late in the first quarter that put Iowa up by seven, their largest lead of the afternoon. Despite the run and the raucuous crowd, the Cougs were able to bunker down behind their swarming defense and hold Iowa to just 11 points in the second quarter as WSU pushed ahead for good before the halftime horn. Much of the Cougs' early success came from their relentless rebounding efforts as WSU came away with 11 offensive rebounds that led to 13 second chance points.

With the lead, the Cougs were able to weather each run Iowa made at them throughout the second half, working the ball inside and out to counter every Hawkeye punch. With 2:21 remaining in the third quarter the Hawkeyes would pull to within one of WSU on the strength of a mini 5-0 burst, but just as they had done before, the Cougs answered the bell with a clutch three from Pavlopoulou and a buzzer beating hook from Kmetovska with :01 remaining to push the advantage back to five after three quarters.

Needing to hold on for just 10 more minutes, the Cougs put the Hawkeyes at arms length over the first five minutes of the final period, outscoring Iowa 12-6 to extend the lead to double-digits with 5:31 to play. A pair of offensive rebounds and put backs by their freshman Kayla Washington bolstered the run with the final putback from Washington proving to be the last field goal of the contest for the Cougs halfway through the fourth. Despite going without a bucket from the floor, the Cougs were able to hold off the Hawkeyes by hitting 15-of-22 from the free throw line in the fourth including 13 in the game's final three minutes as the Iowa attempted to extend the game.

The Cougs finished the game with a slight edge on the boards, 45-to-42, while turning their 17 offensive rebounds into 16 second-chance points. WSU won the turnover battle 16-to-9 while grabbing 10 steals. The 2016-17 edition of the Cougs stole the program record for thievery in a single-season with their performance having finished the contest with 368 steals on the year to surpass the 1981-82 Cougars who finished their campaign with 362. In addition, the Cougs blew by the single-season assists record as their 15 in the game pushed the season total to 482. The previous record of 475 was held by the 1988-89 Cougars.

With the Cougars' front line mired in foul trouble, Iowa's star center, Megan Gustafson, led the way with 19 points and 15 rebounds. Gustafson got off to a hot start by scoring the Hawkeye's first six points before foul trouble of her own forced her to sit much of the first half. In the second half, Gustafson went to work, scoring 13 of her 19 points and grabbing 10 of her 15 rebounds. Behind Gustafson, Ally Disterhoft added 16 points, the majority of which came from the line where she hit 11-of-14 free throws. Outside of Disterhoft, the Hawkeyes struggled with their free throws going just 7-of-15 as a team.

The Cougars will continue their trek across America Wednesday, March 29 with a semifinal matchup against Georgia Tech in Atlanta. The date with the Yellowjackets is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET sending the Cougs into their fourth time zone in five games in the WNIT.

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