The WSU’s magical run through the WNIT finally came to an end in the semifinals Wednesday night when the Cougars lost on the road to Georgia Tech, 69-61.
Anyone who would question the use of the word “magical” in reference to a series of wins in a non-NCAA tournament context has clearly not been paying attention to this squad. The obstacles they overcame to get to this point — notably, numerous injuries to key players — made this a noteworthy run for a program that has had precious little postseason success in its entire existence. In fact, these were the first four postseason wins in school history.
The crazy thing about this game is that Cougs appeared to be on their way to yet another improbable victory. WSU — playing on the road for the fourth time in five games — held a 54-43 lead with 3:49 remaining in the third quarter after Alexys Swedlund caught fire and scored 10 consecutive points in a 13-4 run. She finished with a team-high 21 points.
But that’s when things went south for ... a while. The offense that had been so strong up until that point suddenly disappeared: WSU didn’t score its next point until almost exactly 10 minutes later. (No, that is not a typo.) The Yellow Jackets endeavored to deny Swedlund the ball, and the Cougs had no one else able to step up.
Meanwhile, Georgia Tech caught fire, scoring 18 points over that span to take a seven-point lead.
The Cougs tried to fight back, closing to four with just about two minutes to go, but a 3-pointer by Francesca Pan put the game out of reach.
Caila Haley was second on the team with 10 points (needing 13 shots to get there) and 5 assists. Ivana Kmetovska finished with 8 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocks.
Had WSU won, the Cougars would have advanced to face Michigan in the final. Instead, they return home with the satisfaction of making a deep run that hopefully is an indicator of things to come as coach June Daugherty tries to lead WSU back to the NCAA tournament in 2017-18, which would be the first time in her 11-year tenure in Pullman.