PULLMAN – After another landmark postseason win, the Washington State women’s basketball team started signing autographs on the Beasley Coliseum court.
And it didn’t stop for a solid 15 minutes.
Energized by the loudest home crowd coach June Daugherty could remember in her 10 years at WSU, the Cougars’ unlikely postseason run continued Thursday night with a 71-62 victory over UC Davis in the third round of the WNIT.
WSU (15-19) will play at Iowa (20-13) on Sunday at noon in the quarterfinals.
After winning at BYU and Wyoming to start the WNIT, the Cougs dispatched the Aggies (25-8) on the strength of their defense and rebounding – and the 1,456 fans in attendance.
It was the largest standalone crowd for a women’s game this season and the 11th-largest in program history.
“It seemed like the (autograph) line was never-ending,” junior guard Pinelopi Pavlopoulou said.
WSU entered the WNIT with the worst record in the 64-team field and without a postseason win in the modern NCAA era. It now has three, and they’ve all come after the Cougars lost four players – including their two top scorers – to season-ending injuries earlier in the year.
“An historic night,” Daugherty said. “So many things to be excited and proud of, most importantly obviously this team, who has weathered storm after storm after storm. And they just keep coming back, eager to get better.”
The Cougars controlled the offensive glass against the Big West Conference regular-season champions and forced 14 steals. Their 22 offensive rebounds helped them get off nine more field-goal attempts than UC Davis, a key advantage considering both teams shot 35 percent from the floor.
Alexys Swedlund led the Cougars with 20 points and nine rebounds. Pavlopoulou scored 16 and Caila Hailey chipped in 13 points and a game-high four steals.
“Caila Hailey is big time,” Swedlund said. “In my opinion, she’s defensive player of the year (in the Pac-12).”
The Aggies committed 19 turnovers, 11 in the first half when the Cougars built a 16-point lead.
That cushion quickly evaporated early in the second half. After going 3 of 13 from the 3-point line in the first half, UC Davis buried four consecutive triples and unleashed a 13-2 run in the third quarter.
The Aggies closed to within three points but could never get closer.
“This group takes great, enormous pride in their defense,” Daugherty said. “And it’s not just one (player). It’s collective; it’s all of them. And they believe they can get stops down the stretch, and they were able to do that tonight.”
The Cougars found their stroke a few minutes into the game, just as UC Davis went stone cold.
Swedlund nailed back-to-back 3-pointers – the second from a few feet beyond the arc – and WSU finished the first quarter on a 7-for-9 tear from the field.
The Cougars continued to pull away early in the second quarter, capping an 11-0 surge with a smooth layup from Hailey to go up 31-17.
The Aggies hit their first two 3s of the game before missing their next 10 long-range attempts. The icy spell finally ended with Pele Gianotti’s 3 with 28 seconds left before the half.
UC Davis, which led the Big West in 3-point field-goal percentage, finished 11 of 29 (38 percent) from deep. Leading scorer Morgan Bertsch battled foul trouble and scored six points on 2-of-11 shooting.
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