Playing through her grief, WSU women’s basketball’s Pinelopi Pavlopoulou has helped the Cougars turn a corner

Pinelopi Pavlopoulou got a call with with the news her grandfather had died after the Cougars were eliminated from the Pac-12 tournament. Now she’s leading them through the postseason.

The Sunday after the Cougars’ second round exit from the Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament, Washington State junior Pinelopi Pavlopoulou was chatting with her parents via FaceTime when they broke some bad news.

All the way from Athens, Greece, Pavlopoulou’s parents told her gently that her paternal grandfather, Vasilis Pavlopoulos, had died unexpectedly.

“It was sudden. I didn’t know it was coming,” Pavlopoulou said this week, tearing up as she remembered her grandpa. “I was expecting to go home and see him again.”

Pavlopoulou and her grandfather were close. Growing up in Athens, her grandparents lived 15 minutes away from her family’s home, and she usually visited with them three or four times a week.

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“That’s part of the culture in Greece,” Pavlopoulou said. “We grow up with our grandparents.”

But even though WSU women’s basketball coach June Daugherty offered to let Pavlopoulou go home to mourn with her family, she opted to stay with her team to take on WNIT play.

“I didn’t want to leave the team at this point. I’m one of the captains. I never thought of going home and abandoning the team,” Pavlopoulou said. “I know that grandpa would want me to stay here and play the best games of my life to honor him.”

She’s been true to her word so far.

As the Cougars welcome UC Davis (25-7) to Beasley Coliseum for their Sweet Sixteen WNIT matchup Thursday night, Pavlopoulou is coming off a breakout game against Wyoming in which she scored a career-high 20 points in the Cougars’ overtime win.

Her go-to midrange jumper was integral in helping WSU defeat the Cowgirls, and Pavlopoulou went 9-of-17 from the field – a career high. Her clutch bucket with 22 seconds left in the fourth quarter sent the game into overtime.

That win over Wyoming was big, Daugherty says, and it could signal the beginning of a new chapter for her program.

“No matter what happens on Thursday, the program changed that night, on that floor,” Daugherty said.

The odds were stacked against WSU in Laramie, Wyo.: Playing their second road game in three days, in a hostile environment at a site that’s notoriously difficult to get to, with a short bench and starters mired…

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