Based on Sagarin ratings, Iowa projects as a six-point favorite, and Gustafson is a big reason why. The All-Big Ten sophomore averages 18.5 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game.
By definition, that means the blocking-out and containment skills of the 6-3 Kmetovska and fellow WSU forwards Nike McClure (6-3) and Kayla Washington (6-0) and center Maria Kostourkova figure to be tested in a major way.
But the question begs: who, exactly, is Ivana?
McClure was an in-state prep star in Chehalis and Washington came out of California with a load of accolades, so there was a greater sense of familiarity with them upon arrival in Pullman. Kmetovska, by contrast, not only hails from Europe but a country -- Macedonia -- that precious few Americans could likely point to on a map. For the record, it's in the Balkan peninsula, just north of Greece, and is one of the successor states that grew out of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.
Geography aside, until this season Kmetovska has worked quietly while at WSU. She averaged just five minutes and a little over one bucket per game in the previous two seasons and rarely got off the bench as a true freshman in 2013-14.
In this memorable campaign, however, she's throwing her experience around. She's averaging 22.2 minutes, 8.3 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. She also has 20 steals and 11 blocks.
CF.C caught up with Kmetovska for a speedy Q&A yesterday to gain a sense of her voice and insight. The conversation was done via a combination of email and text messaging and she included some smiley-face emoijis, which we can't replicate on this platform. But they belong at the end of answer Nos. 3 and 5!
1. As the lone senior on the team, do you find yourself dispensing sage advice to these youngsters now that the season is winding down?
IVANA: I definitely share my experience with my teammates, especially now when we are in the WNIT. I try to share with them the attitude of how important every single game is, and that we need to play every single one like it is our last game ever. I try to bring passion, energy, and excitement, also hard work at the both ends of the floor, in hope that I will reflect it to my teammates to stay together and fight. Everything else will take care of itself, having in mind how talented we are.
2. Your minutes and production have skyrocketed this season. What's it feel like to put in years of work and now find you're in prime time on a truly memorable team?
IVANA: It's amazing! Everything you've worked hard for, finally pays off. Every senior’s dream is to make history with their team, and I think my team helped me tremendously to make my dream come true.
3. Which teammate (and why) do you think will one day be president of the US? How about Macedonia?
IVANA: I think that Nike (McClure) can be president of the USA one day! I'm sure Trump has a big rival (in Nike) that hasn't come to light yet.
4.Some of the notable Cougar teams over the last 10 years have had a couple stars at the top leading the way. All of the "stars" on this team are injured. Yet here you all are. How and why did this team rise to the occasion down the stretch?
IVANA: We never gave up. We kept coming back every time we faced adversity. Kudos to our coaches who kept us together and kept believing. Deep inside every player who was not getting the minutes before, they knew how capable they are, and they were just waiting for their five minutes -- for the time to shine and show what they can do for this team. We are one unselfish team who kept playing for each other. I am very proud of my teammates.
5. What are the odds Nike McClure will dunk in a game before she graduates?
IVANA: Nike had problems with her knees before, and had a couple of surgeries. I'm sure if everything was all right, we would've been seeing her dunk even this season!
NOTABLE GAME NOTES:
- The Cougars and Hawkeyes have played recent games against a common foe. The Hawkeyes defeated Colorado 80-62 in Iowa City the other night to advance to the WNIT Elite Eight. The Cougars, meanwhile, beat the Buffs 67-56 in Pullman in the final game of the regular season and then again, 79-78, in Seattle in the first round of the Pac-12 Tourney.
- WSU finished tied for seventh in the Pac-12 this season and brings a 15-19 mark into Sunday's game while the Hawkeyes (20-13/8-8) finished ninth in the 14-member Big Ten.
- A cursory check of Iowa's website didn't point to an obvious streaming option but one of our CF.C posters said the Big Ten Network will be televising/streaming.