(UW Athletics release)
LARAMIE, Wyo. – The longest winning streak in the Mountain West was extended to six games thanks to a dominant showing in the fourth quarter by the Cowgirls. Wyoming (15-5, 8-3 MW) outscored Utah State (10-13, 5-7 MW) by 12 points in the final quarter to grind out a 53-35 win in front of 2,400 fans in the Arena-Auditorium.
“You have to find a number of ways to win, and I think this team is starting to figure that out,” said head coach Joe Legerski. “Whether that’s with three-point shooting, whether it’s taking the ball inside, or in tonight’s game, where defense was played very tough by both teams with a very low-scoring first half, we had to try to get our players to relax a little bit.”
She wasn’t the leading scorer on the night, but senior Sladjana Rakovic made a big impact on the game with her season-high 10 rebounds to go with seven points off the bench. Additionally, Rakovic, along with classmate Bailee Cotton, kept the Mountain West’s third-leading scorer, Shannon Dufficy, to her first game this season with zero points.
“Sladjana really stepped up for us tonight,” Legerski said. “We had Bailee in foul trouble, Sladjana came in and ended up getting 10 rebounds. She went 3-of-8 with seven points with her three pointer.”
Senior Marta Gomez was the game’s leading scorer, as she poured in 17 points for the seventh-straight game with at least 15 points. She went a perfect 10-of-10 at the free throw line – a career-high in makes from the charity stripe.
Cotton added nine points and six boards, while freshman Karla Erjavec scored seven points and had a game-high six assists. It’s the third game in a row for the Croatia native with at least six assists.
Senior Clara Tapia also added seven points, including an important three-pointer in the fourth quarter.
As a team, the Cowgirls shot 33.3 percent (15-of-45) from the field, 30.0 percent (3-of-10) from three and 90.9 percent (20-of-22) from the free throw line. It’s the second time this season the Cowgirls have made at least 20 free throws, and the 90.9 percent ties the fifth-best percentage in a single game in program history on at least 20 attempts.
Wyoming had 11 assists to seven turnovers, the first time in eight games the Cowgirls had single-digit turnovers.
Utah State was led by Hailey Bassett, who scored 14 points and added four rebounds. Rachel Brewster scored eight points for Utah State, and Deja Mason led the team in steals with two.
The Aggies shot 32.6 percent (15-of-46) from the field, 0.0 percent (0-for-8) from three and 62.5 percent (5-of-8) from the free throw line. Utah State is the second Cowgirl opponent to not make any three-point field goals, joining Chadron State’s 0-for-10 performance in the season-opener. The Aggies had 3 assists and 12 turnovers.
Tapia converted a pull-up jumper from the elbow to open the game’s scoring, and Erjavec scored a layup following a Rusk steal to put the Cowgirls up 4-0 early. But the Cowgirls entered a three-minute scoring drought, and the Aggies used a 6-0 run to take a 10-8 lead. Gomez ended the run with a straight-away three, and Wyoming end the first quarter up 11-10.
A running bank shot by USU’s Olivia West started the scoring in the second frame, but Erjavec scored a pair of free throws to regain the lead at the 6:42 mark. Bassett ended a five-minute scoreless stretch for the Aggies, and after the Cowgirls went over three minutes without any points, the USU took back the lead, 16-15 at the 1:15 mark.
Erjavec ended the Cowgirl drought with a pair of free throws, but Bassett scored a long jumper with 28 seconds left in the half. After a Rusk miss, Gomez corralled the rebound and beat the buzzer with an elbow jumper, and the Cowgirls went into the locker room up, 19-18. The only other game the Cowgirls failed to score at least 20 points in a half was the first half of the game in Logan earlier this year.
The Aggies finally opened the scoring in the second half more than two minutes in, and Cotton answered with a long jumper at the 6:51 mark. After an Aggie basket, Erjavec and Cotton worked the pick-and-roll to regain the lead, 23-22, at the 5:48 mark. Freshman Quinn Weidemann ended a 2:00 scoring drought with pair of free throws, and Cotton added another free throw on the next possession.
The Cowgirls’ final six points of the quarter came at the free throw line, and Wyoming had a 32-26 lead heading into the final frame.
Tapia drained a three from the near wing to start the fourth quarter, and after a defensive stop, Gomez dropped in a pair of free throws to give Wyoming its biggest lead of the game, 37-26, at the 8:00 mark. Brewster finally scored for Utah State at the 6:07 mark, but Gomez preserved the 13-point lead with a layup at the 5:51 mark.
Rakovic had a nice stretch where she drained a three and then drew a charge on the defensive end. Utah State’s bench was issued a technical foul, and Gomez converted both shots. Another technical foul was issued later, and Gomez again stepped to the line and scored both. The Aggies ended a 12-0 Cowgirl run with a jumper in the paint, but Utah State still held a 51-30 lead at the 3:02 mark. The teams traded baskets down the stretch, and Wyoming walked away with the 53-35 victory.
The Cowgirls return to the hardwood on Saturday, Feb. 16, when they travel to face Nevada. Tip-off in that contest is slated for 3 p.m. (MT).
Wyoming’s men went toe-to-toe with the Aggies Wednesday evening, but a late run by Utah State hindered the Cowboys in a 76-59 loss inside the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. Wyoming shot a season-high 61 percent from the field in the first half, but were held to 27 percent in the second frame.
“Our guys fought hard and were consistent until the late run,” UW head coach Allen Edwards said. “We mixed up the defense well in the first half and they hit shots in the second half. I always commend the team on the positive energy. We executed a game plan, but made some mental errors. We didn’t find a way to fight through late in the second half and played relax and off balance.”
Senior Justin James added 26 points for his 84th game in double-figures in his career and the 43rd game with 20 or more points in his career. He moved into the top-10 in career three pointers standing ninth with 144 in his career.
“JJ has been JJ all year,” Edwards said “He plays the game the right way. He took care of the basketball and made the right reads. He has truly been great this season.”
Redshirt freshman Hunter Thompson and freshman Trace Young added seven points. Junior Jake Hendricks added six points in his return to the Cache Valley.
Wyoming shot 43 percent from the field for the night going 21-of-49. The Aggies shot 49 percent from the field and 50 percent from behind the arc. The Aggies also held a 35-24 advantage on the glass and scored eight second chance points.
Both teams came out firing in the opening minutes combing for five of six from the field. The Pokes held the advantage 8-6 thanks to a jumper and triple from James and an additional trey ball from Thompson. But the Aggie’s Abel Porter added his second and third three of the game to give USU a 12-8 advantage with 16:23 left in the opening half.
The Pokes would tie the game at 12-12 with four free throws, but the Aggies went on an 11-0 run to build a 23-12 advantage with 11:39 left in the opening half. Sam Merrill fueled the run for the Aggies with a pair of three pointers.
The Pokes would cut the deficit to seven points on a pair of occasions thanks to James and Young, but the Aggies seventh three of the game built the lead back to 10 points at 32-22 with 6:38 left in the frame.
Young would cut the deficit to five with a deep three pointer with 4:19 left in the opening stanza followed by a layup from senior Jordan Naughton for a 34-31 contest. Freshman Brandon Porter tied the game with a triple with 2:39, as it was an 8-0 run for the Pokes over two minutes.
Both teams would use free throws late in the first half for a 37-37 contest at the break. Wyoming shot 61 percent in the first frame from the field for the highest in the opening frame this season and best since shooting 62 percent at Air Force on Feb. 4, 2017.
Hendricks hit his first triple of the game in front of his family and friends to give the Pokes a 40-39 lead almost two minutes into the second half. A bucket and a pair of free throws by Merrill gave the Aggies the upper hand at 43-40 a minute later.
The Aggies would battle to take a 51-47 lead thanks to a 7-0 run over 2:45. Wyoming would struggle from the field going on a stretch of 1-of-7. The Aggies would push the lead to six points at 60-54 with five-straight made baskets with just over six minutes left.
James would score five-straight points including a three pointer to move him to ninth in career pointers with 143, as he tied Alexander Aka Gorski and Fennis Dembo. It would be a two point lead, the largest of the game to that point for Wyoming.
Hendricks would cut the deficit to 60-57 with a triple with 4:36 left, but a 16-2 run over the final 4:18 to take the win.
The Aggies were led in scoring by Sam Merrill with 19 points. He went 4-of-6 from the arc. Neemias added 14 points and 10 rebounds. All of his points came in the second half.
The Cowboys return to action on Saturday evening in the Arena-Auditorium at 8 p.m. hosting No. 7/6 Nevada on ESPNU.