IOWA CITY, Iowa – Playing in a hostile environment after traveling 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 on 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 Cougars were led by their guards. 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 and Hailey added 10 points to go with a career-high 12 rebounds.
The Cougars went on an 11-2 run late in the first quarter and into the second to take the lead for good. With the lead, the Cougars were able to weather each run Iowa made at them throughout the second half, working the ball inside and out to counter every punch.
With 2:21 remaining in the third quarter the Hawkeyes pulled 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 putbacks 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 Cougars halfway through the fourth. Despite going without a bucket from the floor, the Cougars 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 Iowa attempted to extend the game.
The Cougars will continue their trek across America with a semifinal matchup against Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Wednesday at 4 p.m. The trip to Georgia will mark the Cougars’ fourth time zone in five games in the WNIT.
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