WSU loses WNIT semifinal but June Daugherty says gritty lessons of challenging year will live on

WASHINGTON STATE’S fourth quarter — and road trip — magic finally ran out on Wednesday, but coach June Daugherty was able to see the bigger picture in the wake of defeat. “It’s been a helluva journey, hasn’t it,” she said after her Cougars dropped their WNIT final four battle in Atlanta to Georgia Tech, 69-61.

“It's tough to fall one game short — but there was so much greatness to come out of this,” Daugherty said.

The culture of women’s basketball at WSU has changed forever, she noted. “They just wanted to find a way to keep winning for each other." She called the team “one for the ages.”

In the locker room afterward, tears flowed but the players were “already talking about next year.”

And what a year that figures to be. This teams loses just one senior and will return three starters and a backup who all missed large portions of this campaign.

Overcoming those injuries to tie for seventh in the Pac-12 and earn the automatic bid to the WNIT spoke to the character and grit of the players, Daugherty said.

Borrowing inspiration from the 1997 Demi Moore movie G.I. Jane, which the team watched together earlier this season, her troops refused to “ring the bell” this season, Daugherty said.

“They were out to prove to the world they weren’t going to ring that bell,” the coach said.  That determination, she added, is what makes her most proud about what her team accomplished and most excited about what it means for next season. “They are a great example of kids who have the fortitude to keep going and improve, to stay focused and never throw in the towel.”

She used the words “proud,” “love,” and “character” throughout her post-game interview with Steve Grubbs of the WSU broadcasting network.

The Cougars, playing shorthanded much of the season due to injuries to Louise Brown, Borislava Hristova, Chanelle Molina and Cameron Fernandez, finished the campaign at 16-20.

But they put on a post-season show, winning one game in the Pac-12 tourney and then four straight — three on the road — in the WNIT to advance to this final four battle against Tech.

After building an 11-point lead in the third quarter today in Atlanta, the Cougars seemingly ran out of gas. They went scoreless in an eight-minute stretch that spanned the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth and Tech scored 16 unanswered to power the victory. The Yellowjackets, who owned a 50-35 advantage on the boards, will now play Michigan for the WNIT title.

The Cougs managed only seven points in the fourth quarter, going 0-for-6 from downtown and 3-of-16 overall.Alexys Swedlund led the Cougars with 21 points, including 10 in the third quarter. Cailia Hailey, with 10 points, was the only other Coug in double figures. Pinelopi Pavlopoulou paced the team in rebounds (8) and assists (6).

Lone Cougar senior Ivana Kmetovska finished with 8 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocks.

Kmetovska holds a special place in Daugherty’s heart because she came to Pullman all the way from the Balkan state of Macedonia, fought through homesickness early on and limited minutes her first three seasons to stick it out and turn in a stellar senior year.

Daugherty lauded Kmetovska for her work in the classroom as well, and predicted that the 6-3 forward will go on to earn a master’s degree and play many years of pro ball in Europe.

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