WSU has won three games in a row, and is now in its first-ever postseason quarterfinals as it travels to Iowa City, Iowa
New day, new record broken.
That’s been the story of the postseason for the Washington State women’s basketball team.
Buoyed by the 49 boards they grabbed in their 71-62 WNIT Sweet 16 home win over UC Davis on Thursday night, the Cougars advanced to the WNIT Elite Eight as the leading rebounders in program history, with 1375 in 34 games.
Next up, the Cougars (15-19) go back on the road to face Iowa (20-13) on Sunday and play for a semifinal berth.
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“It’s so exciting,” said WSU coach June Daugherty. “There’s 16 teams left playing in women’s basketball, period. To get this program to the Elite Eight just speaks volumes about these kids.”
The Cougars got 20 points from Alexys Swedlund against UC Davis, and 16 from Pinelopi Pavlopoulou, but they won that game on the strength of their 22 offensive rebounds and 14 steals.
“This group takes great, enormous pride in their defense. And it’s not just one player, it’s collective, every one of them,” Daugherty said. “They believe they can get stops down the stretch, and that’s great.”
WSU’s defense will have its hands full containing Iowa’s offense, which ranks 21st nationally and averages 76.4 points per game. The Hawkeyes are sixth nationally with a 47.4 shooting percentage, and have several reliable marksmen.
Senior guard Ally Disterhoft scored 21 in their WNIT first round win against Missouri State, sophomore forward Megan Gustafson, who’s averaging a team-hig 18.5 points per game, erupted for a career-high 33 points against South Dakota and Disterhoft led three Hawkeyes in double digit scoring with 15 points as Iowa shut down Colorado 80-62 in the Sweet 16.
Note, that’s the same Colorado team WSU snuck by 79-78 in the opening round of the Pac-12 tournament earlier this month.
“They’re big kids, very physical. Hopefully that won’t bother us,” Daugherty told reporters in her postgame press conference Thursday night. “They shoot the ball very well, they’ve got a good inside attack, and they mix up defenses.
“I’ve seen them run some 2-3 on defense, and some 1-3-1. We’re gonna have to be way better against the zone if we see that in Iowa.”
Daugherty, an Ohio State alum and native of Columbus, Ohio, knows her team is in for a fight in Iowa, deep in Big Ten territory.
The Hawkeyes have had the privilege of playing every one of their three WNIT games so far at home, and are 17-3 in Iowa City this year.
Meanwhile, the Cougars are 0-1 all-time against Iowa, with their lone previous meeting resulting in a 67-51 defeat at Iowa.
Still, WSU’s defense has carried the team all year, and Daugherty is says the last three games – each a history-making postseason win in its own right – have shown her that these Cougars are playing with the confidence they’ll need to hold their own against anyone.
At multiple junctures against UC-Davis, the Cougars found ways to hit crucial buckets whenever they needed it most – with the Aggies on a roll and the point differential shrinking.
“It just shows the moxie these guys have. They didn’t have much swag especially after (Chanelle) Molina’s injury (in January),” Daugherty said. “And I thought Nike McClure was great in really continuing to improve a lot and block shots and just bring some swag back and say, ‘You know what, maybe we’re not going to score, but if we keep playing hard and having some fun with this, who knows what’s gonna happen?’
“That swag started to come back a little bit, and that’s important down the stretch.”