'It's been a heck of a roller coaster,' June Daugherty says after WSU wins again and moves on to WNIT Elite 8

PULLMAN -- When the game was done, and Washington State's women's basketball team had earned itself a spot in the WNIT Elite Eight, the Beasley Coliseum crowd of more than 1,400 didn't head for the exits Thursday night. They stood on their feet and cheered what almost certainly ranks as one of the unlikeliest success stories in the modern era of Cougar sports.

It's been well-documented that these Cougars have lost three starters to injury. That is why, by all common sense, this season on the Palouse should have ended two weeks ago. Yet here they are, nearly to April, and the underhanded 15-19 Cougs are still rolling.

The latest chapter in their improbable post-season came Thursday at home in a WNIT third-round victory over UC Davis, 71-62. Sophomore Alexys Swedlund, hot handed from downtown, led the way with 20 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 assists.

And the crimson partisans stood loud and proud as coach June Daugherty and lone senior Ivana Kmetovska took to the mic to express their gratitude."It's been a heck of a roller coaster," Daugherty told the crowd. https://twitter.com/COUGFANcom/status/845124044437401602

Now it's on to Iowa for a noon showdown Sunday with the Hawkeyes in the Elite Eight.

The victory -- WSU's third-straight in the WNIT and fifth in their last six -- was "historic," said Daugherty.

"This team has weathered storm after storm after storm," she told reporters.

"Now we're playing for a championship."

WSU jumped to a big first-half lead, weathered a furious UC Davis comeback and pulled away down the stretch. The Cougars disrupted passing lanes, crashed the boards, mixed man-to-man and zone defenses to combat UCD's Princeton offense, and contained Aggies scoring ace Morgan Bertsch, who managed just six points over 26 minutes. Daugherty credited sophomore center Maria Kostourkova for working overtime on Bertsch and getting the Aggie into foul trouble.

Caila Hailey also was stellar on defense, picking UC Davis pockets for 4 steals. She also scored 13 points and brought down 5 rebounds.

Daugherty was emotional.

"You can see each player is getting more and more confident, and we were fortunate enough to have three days of preparation and that was key," she said.

Sophomore guard Pinelopi Pavlopoulou, who scored 16 and nabbed 6 rebounds, said the fans helped fuel the night. "Energy - having the crowd there and the Cougar family, it carried us and helped close out the game," she said.

Swedlund went straight to the point: "It feels amazing, that's what we play for," she said.

Ivana Kmetovska, the lone senior on the team, was in tears after the win, which marked her final game on Friel Court.

"It really meant a lot to Ivana -- it's not the year she thought she was going to have with the way it started,” Daugherty said.

"They just keep coming back, eager to get better and doing whatever it takes to get this team on course," the coach added, calling her team's run a “Cinderella story."

As for Iowa, Daugherty says they're big and physical. And she's hopeful her scrappy will continue to lead with their never-say-die spirit. Based on Sagarin ratings, the Hawkeyes project as roughly six-point favorites.

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