WSU rallied from a slow start to beat Colorado in dramatic fashion and advance to the second round of Pac-12 tournament play, where it will face No. 2 seed Stanford on Friday evening at 6 p.m.

Share story

Even the 79-78 final score doesn’t accurately convey the dramatic way by which Washington State snuck by Colorado Thursday night, in the opening round of the Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament at Key Arena.

After starting out shooting bricks and allowing 10th-seeded Colorado to get off to a 17-4 start, the 7th-seeded Cougars had clawed their way back into the picture thanks in large part to a resurgent second quarter that saw WSU outscore the Buffs 24-8, while sophomore guard Alexys Swedlund found her shooting form en route to a career-high 23 points.

The Cougars (12-18) led by 10 points with 3:37 left in the third quarter. But with 1:05 remaining in the game, the Buffalos had rallied behind well-timed 3-pointers from Mackenzie Ellis and Haley Smith to cut WSU’s lead to 77-74.

The final seconds of play were punctuated by a bizarre turn of events. With Colorado trailing 79-78 and 8.9 seconds on the clock, the Buffs missed a free throw and WSU appeared to win possession of the ball and tried to call time out – only to have the officials give the ball back to the Buffs due to an inadvertent whistle that occurred with the jump ball possession arrow pointing Colorado’s way.

Officials ruled that even though the back line referee had blown the whistle, the Cougars never had full possession of the ball when they called time out.

WSU coach June Daugherty protested, but to no avail. Colorado maintained possession with the ball in its offensive half, and had time to run one final play.

The Buffs put the ball in the hands of sophomore guard Ariana Freeman, who had gone 8-of-15, finished with 16 points and had been electric for Colorado all night.

But on Freeman’s final jumper, the ball bounced off the rim and a scrum of players dove for the loose ball.

Caila Hailey emerged victorious, scrambled out of the melee with the ball and dribbled to safety as time expired and the Cougars broke into a rousing cheer.

“One stop. That was the biggest thing we were thinking about. Just get that one stop, play that last play to the best of your ability, and we did. We got that last steal,” said Hailey, who had 17 points in the win. “I got it and I just took off and made sure she couldn’t get me.

“Man, I wanted it so bad just to finish it for my team. We’d worked so hard and I think we deserved that win.”

So the night ended with the Cougars literally bouncing off the walls they ran triumphantly through the corridors of Key Arena and back to the locker room.

“There was absolutely no quit in the Cougars. We’ve seen that all year with this young group,” said Daugherty, whose team had to weather the loss of three starters to injury this season.

The reward for their close shave is an encounter against No. 2 seed Stanford (15-3) Friday night.

“I think it gives us a lot of momentum and a lot of confidence. We need to build off this and transfer that energy and resiliency to the next game,” Hailey said.

WSU really had to fight for this one. Through most of the first quarter, the Cougars allowed themselves to be dominated by a scrappy, physical Colorado (15-15) team that seemed hell-bent on avenging the defeat they suffered against WSU in Pullman last Saturday.

The Buffaloes jumped out to a 5-0 start before Daugherty called timeout to re-focus her team.

It didn’t really work. Three minutes later, Colorado had increased its lead to 17-4, and Daugherty called timeout again. This time, she switched up the lineup, and the addition of Kayla Washington, Johanna Muzet and Ivana Kmetovska provided a mini-spark, with Washington and Kmetovska each scoring a bucket.

But despite their best efforts, the Cougars still finished the first quarter trailing 25-13.

Then Swedlund got hot. After being held to a single point in the opening quarter, the sophomore guard from South Dakota started the second quarter by going 4-for-4, with two 3-pointers, to ignite the Cougars’ offense.

Swedlund’s 10th point tied the game at 25-25, and Pinelopi Pavlopoulou gave WSU its first lead of the evening with a well-timed layup.

WSU rode Swedlund’s shooting streak to a 18-0 run to start the second quarter and didn’t allow the Buffaloes to score until Freeman finally sank a jumper with 2:54 remaining.

However, by this point, the Cougars had found their flow.

Washington scored on a steal from Hailey to open a 32-27 lead, then sank a putback to help WSU regain the lead 34-33 after a 6-0 Colorado run. Hailey, who’d started the night shooting 0-for-5 then sank a 3 at the buzzer to give WSU the lead going into the locker room.

“To our credit, that second quarter was big for us,” Daugherty said. “Swedlund went on that highlight reel run. She just went off. And she’s so capable of doing it. But to do it on this biggest stage, in the postseason, is really exciting. And it was a collaborative effort by everyone else to get it done.”

The Cougars kept that momentum through most of the second half, combining to finish 10-of-17 from 3-point range. Swedlund had four threes, while Pinelopi Pavlopoulou went 3-of-4 from behind the arc to finish with 10 points.

Colorado gamely matched WSU on 3-pointers, finishing 11-of-20, with five 3-pointers from Alexis Robinson. The teams combined for 21 3-pointers made — a new Pac-12 tournament record.

Nike McClure contributed nine rebounds and three blocks to set a new WSU single season record for blocks (60).

WSU outscored Colorado 20-4 on second-chance points and out-rebounded the Buffs 39-21. Haley Smith led Colorado with 21 points, and Robinson finished with 17.

“Colorado played a great game,” Daugherty said. “It could have gone either way. Both teams are really young. Hat’s off to J.R. (Payne, Colorado’s coach). She’s done a great job with that group.”