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Entering the last two weeks of the season, with four out of six games on the road and three Top 10-caliber teams lying in wait, the Utah women's basketball team really could have used a Pac-12 win Sunday at the Huntsman Center.
And while the Utes did make a spirited fourth-quarter comeback, it was the Washington State Cougars who held on for a 61-55 victory, getting a key offensive rebound off a free throw and handing Utah its fifth loss in six games.
"The little things matter. Valuing the ball, fundamentals, boxing out on free throws. We were down two and they missed both free throws," said Utah coach Lynne Roberts. "That was the game."
That came at the 1:22 mark in the fourth quarter, after Utah (14-9, 3-9) had chopped a 13-point lead down to a single possession.
Washington State (10-13, 5-7), led by Pinelopi Pavlopoulou's 14 points, went up by a 52-39 count with eight minutes left in the game on a pair of free throws by Alexys Swedlund.
But the Utes methodically cut into the lead, with senior Paige Crozon coolly hitting a pair of 3-pointers and guard Malia Nawahine sinking a trey with 1:47 remaining to make the score 57-55.
That's when the Cougars missed two free throws, but collected an offensive rebound. After a missed Washington State jumper, Utah was also unable to grab the board and with 52 seconds left Maria Kostourkova canned two shots from the charity stripe for a four-point margin.
Nawahine's three, as it turned out, was the last basket of the game for the Utes.
"I guess there is no thing as a little thing," Roberts said. "Everything matters, especially in a close game. It's a process and we've got to learn.
"The worst thing we can do is let frustration beat us," she added. "We still had plenty of opportunities to win this thing. You've just got to keep plugging away."
Crozon finished with 25 points, her season high, while junior Emily Potter scored nine for Utah. Potter, who averaged 15.7 points a game over the first 18 contests of the season, has been held to single digits in four of the last five.
"We obviously did a great job on Potter, because she's a very talented player," said Washington State coach June Daugherty, whose team surged to the lead after trailing at the end of one quarter. "I think we went seven for nine [in the second period] in making the stops defensively and forcing turnovers."
The Utes shifted their starting lineup for a second time in the last three games by reinserting guard Erika Bean back into the opening five as the team continues to struggle offensively.
"I think there could be more adjustments; we're just trying to find what works," Crozon said. "Megan [Jacobs] came in today as a point guard and did a really good job. I think we just need to find something that will work and make a run at the end of the season here."
R Utah cut down a 13-point fourth quarter deficit to just two points in the last two minutes before Washington State scored the last four of the game.
• Utes' senior Paige Crozon stroked five 3-pointers, hit all four of her free throws and had a game-high 25 points.
• Washington State trailed by three at the end of one quarter before outscoring Utah by eight in the second.