LARAMIE — By the time overtime tipped off Saturday at the Arena-Auditorium, every rebound was a challenge for the Wyoming women’s basketball team. With an oversized opponent in Washington State, two post presences gone to knee injuries and forward Bailee Cotton fouled out, the Cowgirls were in danger of being outrebounded out of the season.
But with a one-point deficit and 31 seconds to play, the Cowgirls got their rebound. Five-foot-seven sophomore guard Clara Tapia pulled down a missed Cougars’ jumper and gave Wyoming one final possession. Tapia dribbled the ball down the court and, after a pair of passes failed to yield an open look, took the shot herself in the final seconds.
It fell short. Wyoming’s season ended with a 68-67 overtime loss to Washington State in the second round of the WNIT.
“It was a weird feeling, honestly,” said Cotton, who finished with nine points and five rebounds. “It didn’t feel real, because I felt like we won that. We did what we wanted to do.”
Wyoming’s season ended at 22-10 overall.
The Cowgirls also had a chance at a game-winning shot in regulation, but Marta Gomez’s 3-point attempt with 4 seconds left failed to break the stalemate.
Tapia had seven assists in the game, and head coach Joe Legerski wanted the ball in her hands on the final possession.
“When you take a look at it, Clara ends … this game with seven assists,” Legerski said. “We were not getting open off our screens. We were getting open off of being able to attack the basket, and Clara was able to attack the basket and find people for seven baskets. We knew going in that’s how we’d played the last stretch of the fourth quarter and into overtime.
“It just so happened that we didn’t keep attacking when she did, and that’s what we needed to do at the end.”
Legerski chose not to call a timeout before that final possession.
“One of the things that goes through your mind (then) is, ‘We don’t want to let them change defenses on us,’” he said. “They’d been switching throughout the game. We’d been doing really well attacking. Everybody knew where we wanted to attack. And with the rule change of being able to advance the ball (to half court on a timeout), you always want to hang on to maybe one.”
The Cougars used their size advantage to outrebound Wyoming 16-4 on the offensive glass and 50-34 overall. Wyoming was without 5-foot-11 junior and leading rebounder Liv Roberts and 6-2 freshman Selale Kepenc, both injured.
“One of the things that I noticed at the end: we looked exhausted out there,” Legerski said. “That’s a tough thing. And also, they looked tired as well, but their size made the difference. And so to give them that many second opportunities, I thought that was the difference in the ball game, was their offensive rebounding. We kept it in check for a half. We didn’t do well in the second half.”
Neither team scored in the first 1:52 of overtime and Wyoming was held scoreless for the first 4 minutes, missing its first five shots. The Cougars edged ahead by four on a Pinelopi Pavlopoulou jumper and two Kayla Washington free throws. Cowgirls freshman Taylor Rusk’s 3-pointer with 53.8 seconds remaining gave Wyoming life, but those would be the Cowgirls’ only overtime points.
Pavlopoulou led all players with 20 points on 9-of-17 shooting. Junior Natalie Baker had 18 points to pace Wyoming, as well as a team-high six rebounds.
The teams traded eight leads and shared eight ties in the first half, with Washington State’s five-point edge late in the second quarter being the largest first-half gap. The Cougars put up 23 points in the second period on 9-of-16 shooting to go into the half up 37-33. Washington State had four of the game’s first five turnovers, but the Cougars, who had 29 takeaways in their first-round win, had just one turnover in the half’s final 14 minutes. Wyoming, meanwhile, went into the break with eight.
Skyler Snodgrass, who had eight points in all of the regular season, scored five points in the first half, giving her 11 in the WNIT.
The Cougars grabbed a nine-point lead early in the third quarter, the largest of the game, with an 8-3 run out of halftime. But Wyoming closed the quarter on a 14-4 run — seven of which came on free throws — to take a three-point lead into the fourth.
After the Cougars outscored Wyoming 23-16 in the second quarter and Wyoming outscored the Cougars 23-16 in the third, the teams combined for just 19 points in the fourth. The Cougars tied Wyoming three times in the quarter but couldn’t push ahead, despite the fact that Wyoming had just three field goals.
“I think one of the things that ended up happening is everybody got a little tired,” Legerski said. “Everybody got a little tentative. And when that starts happening, that’s not the best thing.
“But I think it’s been a long year. When you start in September and you’re finishing up here about the third week of March, it’s a lot of emotion that goes on, a lot of physical drain. ... There wasn’t much left, I don’t think, for any team.”
Hailey Ligocki, Wyoming’s lone senior, ended her collegiate career with seven points and three rebounds. She missed an open layup with the game tied and 1:38 to play in regulation but absolved herself with a tough jumper a minute later to put Wyoming ahead. Pavlopoulou then hit a jumper with 25 seconds remaining to force overtime.
“The toughest part now is this team will never play again together,” Legerski said. “And that’s the most difficult part. But to see the way Hailey Ligocki went out, I thought she played her heart out tonight. And that’s all you can ask.”