PULLMAN — A large and vocal contingent of fans packed the stands, lined the hillside overlooking Lower Soccer Field, and watched from balconies and windows of nearby WSU residence halls Saturday as the 15th-ranked Cougar women played their final home game of the season — a 3-0 opening-round NCAA tournament victory against Montana.

The Cougs (14-2-4) now are unbeaten in their past eight games, and have won four straight since playing a string of ties in October. They finished this one leading 20-2 in shots and 12-0 in corner kicks.

That Washington State was the stronger team was evident from the outset, but it took some time for that to show on the scoreboard as the Grizzlies (13-6-1) sustained a game defensive effort. The ball rarely crossed center field to the Cougars’ side for most of the first half as they recorded a shot every few minutes, putting up four before Montana had any. The lone notable break from Wazzu’s steady dominance — a near-disastrous one — came with around 21 minutes remaining in the half when a long kick from Montana goalie Camellia Xu sent the ball to midfielder Ali Monroe, who drove in on the fast break and fired a high shot that narrowly missed, bouncing off the left post.

WSU picked up where it had left off, reclaiming consistent possession and adding another six shots through the next 11 minutes of play, the last of which was a long-range attempt from Alyssa Gray that looked almost like a winner, but skimmed off the top of the Montana goal.

Through that stage, the contest was a bloodbath by every measure except the most important one: the scoreline, which remained in a 0-0 stalemate.

WSU finally changed that with eight-and-a-half minutes remaining before intermission when Mykiaa Minniss delivered a downfield kick that set up Marin Whieldon — who was waiting by Montana’s right goal post — for a short header into the net. It was the sophomore midfielder’s first career goal for the Cougs.

“We were in complete control of the game,” Washington State coach Todd Shulenberger said. “What was concerning was we forced some things at times. They played five in the back — sometimes it was six — so it made it difficult. Credit to them, but we solved it.”

Montana transitioned from the 5-4-1 formation it had used in the first half to a less-defensive 3-4-3 formation in the second, and was able to get the ball onto the Cougars’ side of the field more often while the scoring gap remained tenuous, but the Griz only recorded one more actual shot, which was significantly further from successful conversion than the one in the first half. A penalty kick from Wazzu’s Sydney Pulver after teammate Sydney Studer went down near the goal in the 79th minute gave WSU the insurance it needed, with Montana’s Xu breaking to her right as Pulver instead blasted the ball to her left. For good measure, Grayson Lynch managed to battle through a tangle of Griz defenders and finished four minutes later, establishing the final margin.

Washington State advances to face sixth-seeded Tennessee (19-2) on Friday in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“They’re a good team, athletic team, SEC champs, well-coached across the board,” Shulenberger said of Tennessee. “It’ll be a great game. It’s going to be nice and cold (in Michigan); we’re used to that.”

Montana 0 0—0

Washington State 1 2—3

WSU — Marin Whieldon (Mykiaa Minniss), 37th.

WSU — Sydney Pulver, 79th.

WSU — Grayson Lynch (Sydney Studer, Sydney Pulver), 83th.

Shots — Washington State 20, Montana 2. Saves — Montana: Camellia Xu 3. Washington State: Nadia Cooper 0.

Wendt may be contacted at cwendt@lmtribune.com, or (208) 848-2268.