(Editor’s note: University of Wyoming athletics release)
LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Behind a career night from sophomore Taylor Rusk, the Wyoming basketball team (21-9 overall, 13-5 MW) overcame a season-high 17 point first half deficit to beat the New Mexico Lobos (23-10 overall, 10-8 MW) by the final of 69-66 on Tuesday night. It was the first win since the 2015 season that the Cowgirls have won a tournament game.
“All season long this team competes for 40 minutes,” said Wyoming head coach Joe Legerski. “One of the things when we were down 15 at half, there didn’t seem to be a great deal of panic in the locker room. What we talked about was we needed to become more aggressive, attack the basket. Once again, we just fell back to winning five minutes at a time. It’s a pretty big task against a team as talented as New Mexico and as well as they were playing. I didn’t expect it all to happen in the third quarter. We talked about being more aggressive to the basket. I thought Taylor Rusk played exceptional tonight. She was the player out there that seemed very calm, got things going, and really went to the basket, had a career high in points, but more importantly showed tremendous leadership.”
Rusk recorded a career-high 21 points, which included 15 points in the second half, while bringing down a team-high eight rebounds. Senior Natalie Baker finished the night with 14 points and eight boards followed by junior Marta Gomez with 13 points and six rebounds. Senior Liv Roberts was the fourth Cowgirl in double-figures with 11 points and six boards. Wyoming shot 22-of-53 (.415) from the field and 22-of-27 (.815) from the charity stripe. UW out rebounded the Lobos, 39-35 and had 36 points in the paint.
“I thought the seniors took over,” Legerski added. “For Natalie, Liv, they knew they had to compete. They knew they wanted to continue to play. This is it for them. This time of year, you do fall upon your seniors. I thought they played extremely well. Down the stretch Natalie made two big free throws where we could always keep it at two possessions. We still had to make another play at the end. We had a hand up, and the ball fell for us.”
UNM was led by junior Jaisa Nunn with a game-high 20 points and 14 rebounds. Freshman Madi Washington recorded 12 points off the bench while senior Cherise Beynon had ten points and six rebounds. The Lobos were 22-of-62 (.355) from the field and 10-of-25 (.400) from three.
UW got in the scoring column first but back to back three’s by the Lobos gave them a 6-2 advantage. Free throws by Tapia and a basket by Rusk evened up the score at six all. New Mexico scored seven of the next nine to extend the lead to five, 13-8. Free throws by Rusk ended a scoreless stretch as it was 13-10 after one. Baskets by Nunn and Washington increased the lead to eight, 18-10. The Cowgirls scored six of the next eight to close the gap to four, 20-16. The Lobos went on a 13-0 run get the lead to double-digits, 33-16. Baker hit a basket late to end a five minute scoreless stretch, but UNM took a 33-18 lead in to the locker room.
Rusk led all Cowgirls scorers with six points and three rebounds. Roberts and Tapia each had four points. UW shot 7-24 (.292) from the field and 0-of-2 (.000) from three. Wyoming committed eight turnovers which results in ten UNM points and out rebound, 20-15. Nunn led the way for the Lobos with 11 points and eight rebounds. Washington came off the bench and had six points. New Mexico was 12-of-31 (.387) from the field and 6-of-14 (.429) from three.
The Cowgirls came out strong in the third quarter scoring the first seven points to pull within eight, 33-25, which forced a New Mexico timeout. Beynon hit free throws nearly three minutes in. The teams combined for eight points with the Lobos holding a 39-29 advantage through the media timeout. UW responded with nine unanswered to cut the deficit to one, 39-38, with 3:05 on the clock. Nunn hit free throws push the UNM lead to four 42-38, but the Cowgirls went on a 5-0 run capped off by a Roberts three-point play to give them the lead back, 43-42, after the third quarter. N’Dea Flye hit a basket to end a three minute drought for the Lobos. Another seven straight by UW would give them its largest lead of the game, 50-45, with 6:29 in the fourth. New Mexico scored seven of the next 11 to make it a one possession game, 54-52. Gomez and Rusk would score the next nine points for the Cowgirls to give them ahead six, 63-57, with 1:32 on the clock. The Lobos battled back and cut it to two, 63-61, and eventually one, 67-66. Free throws down the stretch by Wyoming helped seal the 69-66 victory.
Wyoming will move on to the semifinals of the 2018 Mountain West Tournament Wednesday night against the Nevada Wolf Pack. The game is scheduled for 10 p.m. MT.