The Washington State women are having fun again.
Winning two games in a national postseason tournament will do that.
The Cougars (14-19) have a chance to make it three in a row when they host UC Davis in a third-round Women’s National Invitation Tournament game on Thursday night.
“It’s really exciting to be back in Pullman in the Sweet 16 of the WNIT,” coach June Daugherty said. “It’s been an amazing journey.”
And an improbable one. The Cougars received a postseason spot because their seventh-place conference finish was the highest of any Pac-12 team that didn’t qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
Entering the WNIT at 12-19, the worst record of any team in the 64-team bracket, the Cougars went on the road and beat BYU and Wyoming for the first postseason wins in program history.
“It’s been a long time since I walked off the floor with tears in my eyes,” Daugherty said of WSU’s 68-67 overtime win last Saturday in Laramie, Wyoming.
Emotions have run high this season for the Cougars, who lost top scorers Borislava Hristova, Chanelle Molina and Louise Brown to injuries.
Earlier this month, Pinelopi Pavlopoulou lost her grandfather back in Athens, Greece. Offered the opportunity to go home for the funeral, Pavlopoulou responded with “an emphatic ‘no,’ ” Daugherty said.
“I know she’s playing a lot for him and her entire family right now,” the coach said.
Overcoming adversity and the 7,165-foot elevation at Wyoming, Pavlopoulou responded with the best game of her college career — 20 points and four assists.
“She realized how much the team counts on her and believes in her, not just her floor leadership,” Daugherty said of Pavlopoulou, who stepped in when Molina was lost at the point.
“She’s been asked to do quite a bit,” said Daugherty, who’s taken three teams to the WNIT in the last four years.
Next up is a date with another surprise team in UC Davis. The Aggies were a mainstay in the NCAA Division II Tournament before making the jump to Division I, advancing to the NCAA West Regionals 12 times in 14 years from 1986-99.
The Aggies (25-7) are in the postseason for the fifth time in 10 years as a Division I program. They are 2-3 all-time in the WNIT. Both wins have come in this year at Utah and Colorado State.
Thursday’s winner will play Iowa or Colorado in a quarterfinal game on Saturday or Sunday.