ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s ability to exploit one of Washington State’s biggest weaknesses on Wednesday helped put an end to the Cougars’ unexpected run in the Women’s NIT.
Georgia Tech outrebounded Washington State 50-35, which sparked an 18-0 second-half run, and took a 69-61 win in the tournament semifinal at McCamish Pavilion.
Georgia Tech advances to play Michigan for the championship on Saturday.
“Where we lost the game was rebounding,” Washington State coach June Daugherty said. “That was a huge difference. That was our No. 1 goal and we weren’t able to get it done.”
The last time the Cougars were outrebounded by a similar margin was March 3 against Stanford. That night they were outrebounded by 16 and lost by 33. The rebounding deficiencies against Georgia Tech led to 16 second-chance points.
“We’ll take that and it’ll be one of the lessons we take into the spring and try to improve on,” Daugherty said.
The Cougars (16-20) hung tough behind the 21-point performance of guard Alexys Swedlund. The sophomore was 5 for 11 on 3-pointers and sparked an 11-2 run, including back-to-back treys, that put them up by 11 points with 3:49 left in the third quarter.
“They were pressing quite a bit and early on (Alexys) was wide open,” Daugherty said. “You could see her eyes kind of light up. Then they made some adjustments. It just wasn’t enough.”
Georgia Tech made some defensive changes and Washington State went cold. The Cougars didn’t score again until Ivana Kmetovska scored on a layup with 3:48 left in the game. The Cougars never again got closer than four points.
“They came out strong and aggressive and we responded for most of the game,” Swedlund said. “But there were times they went on runs and we didn’t.”
Washington State also got 10 points and five assists from Caila Hailey, but she made just 2 of 13 from the field. Pinelopi Pavlopoulou grabbed a team-high eight rebounds.
Georgia Tech (22-14) was led by Zaire O’Neil, who had 20 points and 16 rebounds for her third double-double of the season. Freshman Francesca Pan scored 14.
“I told the players we weren’t going to beat them without outrebounding them,” Georgia Tech coach MaChelle Joseph said. “We’ve got to get second and third shots, because they do such a great job of keeping you off the boards.”
Georgia Tech scored the first six points of the game by attacking the basket, but the Cougars prevented the lead from growing and took their first lead at 19-17 when Hailey hit a 3-pointer with 1:08 left in the first quarter.
The second quarter went back and forth with five lead changes and two ties. Washington State went ahead by five at 35-30 late in the second quarter on consecutive jumpers by Swedlund, one of them a 3-pointer. Georgia Tech scored on a layup with 2 seconds left to cut the Cougs’ lead to 35-32 at halftime.
Despite bowing out of the tournament, Daugherty said the tournament experience will be beneficial to the team.
“I’m really proud of this group,” she said. “I can’t say enough about them. The culture at Washington State is changed forever.”
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