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Wyoming Cowgirls earn first win in Fresno since ’96, Cowboys fall to Bulldogs

Posted at 2:31 PM, Jan 31, 2019
(UW Athletics photo)

(UW Athletics release)

FRESNO, Calif. – The Cowgirls had another strong defensive effort, and paired with trademark balanced scoring, they picked up a 63-56 win against Fresno State. It’s the first win in Fresno for the Cowgirls since 1996, and it’s the third game in a row this season the Cowgirls haven’t trailed.

“I thought the defensive effort was there all night long,” said head coach Joe Legerski. “We knew we had to step up. They do such a great job of putting the ball on the floor, attacking, and the biggest thing we talked about was we had to limit their threes. But more importantly, we had to keep them off the free throw line. Fresno State had six attempts at the free throw line. That was a big part of this. We were not going to foul, we had to move our feet defensively and make things difficult.”

Wyoming was led by Marta Gomez, who tallied 15 points and grabbed five rebounds. Taylor Rusk and Quinn Weidemann each added 12 points for the Cowgirls. Clara Tapia scored six points and dished out five assists, sharing the team high in that statistic with Sladjana Rakovic, a career-high number for Rakovic. Bailee Cotton had six points, 12 rebounds and a career-high four blocks.

The Cowgirls shot 45.8 percent (22-of-48) from the field, 56.3 percent from three (9-of-16) and 62.5 percent (10-of-16) from the free throw line. Wyoming ended the game with 20 assists and 12 turnovers. It’s the fifth time this season the Cowgirls have had at least 20 assists in a game.

Fresno State was led by Candice White’s 24 points and three assists. Maddi Utti scored 14 points and added four steals, while Aly Gamez led Fresno State on the glass with nine rebounds.

The Bullodogs shot 35.8 percent (24-of-67) from the field, 20.0 percent from three (5-of-25) and 50.0 percent (3-of-6) from the free throw line. Fresno State ended the game with six assists and nine turnovers.

It was a defensive battle to start the game, as both teams came up empty on multiple possessions. Finally, the Cowgirls broke through thanks to a Gomez jumper, Rusk layup and Gomez trey to take a 7-0 lead at the 4:33 mark of the quarter. Another Rusk fastbreak layup put Wyoming up 12-2 at the 2:15 mark. The final six seconds of the quarter saw a pair of threes from both teams, and the Cowgirls took an 18-9 lead into the first quarter break.

Fresno State’s White opened the second quarter with an elbow jumper, but Cotton answered by finding the soft spot in the zone for a layup. Weidemann buried a trey, and after a steal, a fastbreak layup from Rakovic made it 25-14 with 5:56 remaining in the half. Rusk hit a corner three after some movement to escape the zone, and the Cowgirls entered the media timeout up 28-14 with 3:50 left in the second frame. The Bulldogs outscored Wyoming 7-4 to end the half, and the Cowgirls took a 32-21 lead into halftime.

Gomez hit a baseline jumper to start the second half, but White scored from the elbow to spark a 6-0 run for Fresno State. Cotton stopped that run with a free throw, putting Wyoming up 35-27 at the 7:33 mark. Rakovic made a layup to regain a double-digit lead for the Cowgirls, 44-33, at the 2:52 mark. The teams traded baskets, and White hit a buzzer-beating three to make it a 46-40 lead for Wyoming after three quarters.

White then opened the scoring in the fourth quarter, but after each team made a few baskets, the Bulldogs only trimmed one point off the Cowgirl lead, and Wyoming held a 52-47 advantage with 4:32 to go in the game. Another White jumper trimmed the lead Cowgirl to three. Tapia ended a five-minute-plus Cowgirl scoring drought with an elbow jumper to extend the Cowgirl lead back to five, 54-49 with 1:28 to go. Then, after a defensive stop, Tapia went 1-of-2 at the line to make it 55-49 with 56.2 second to play.

While the Cowgirls had struggled to score in the middle of the period, the Bulldogs entered the final minute of the game on a 3:10 scoring drought. The Bulldogs missed again, and Gomez grabbed the rebound, was fouled and made 1-of-2 to make it 56-49 with 48.7 seconds to go. White scored a driving layup to get some back, but Cotton went 1-of-2 at the line to keep it a tough two-possession game, as Fresno State trailed, 57-51, with 43.4 left in the game. Utti scored for Fresno, and Gomez answered with a pair of free throws.

The Cowgirls earned another stop, and Cotton made two more free throws. The game wasn’t over yet, as the Bulldogs scored a three-ball with 13.6 seconds left, and Erjavec made 1-of-2 at the line. White’s desperation three missed, and Tapia collected the rebound and made a free throw to make the final 63-56.

The Cowgirls return to action on Wednesday, February 6, when they host Air Force at 6:30 p.m. (MT) in the Arena-Auditorium.

Meantime, after keeping one of the nation’s top three point shooting teams in check in the first half, Fresno State hit nine triples in the second frame to down the Wyoming Cowboys 75-62 on Wednesday evening in the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie. Wyoming (5-16, 1-7 MW) and the Bulldogs (15-5, 6-2) were neck and neck until 14-0 run with under 10 minutes remaining by Fresno State was the difference. The contest featured 11 lead changes, the most in a conference contest for Wyoming this season.

“I think Fresno State is the second best team in our league behind Nevada, Our message to the team before the game was 40 minutes — physically and mentally engaged,” UW head coach Allen Edwards said. “I thought we got to about 30 or 32 minutes and then we started to get out of character, our pop wasn’t the same and we didn’t defend the three-point line in the second half as well as we did in the first half. We also turned the basketball over and got a little antsy on offense down the stretch.”

Wyoming held two of the MW’s premier scorers in Deshon Taylor and Braxton Huggins, who combine for 35 points per game to 12 points combined on the evening.

“I thought we did a great job on their two big scorers, (Braxton) Huggins and (Deshon) Taylor, but they had other guys step up and that is why I think they are the second best team in our league,” Edwards said. “(New) Williams hits 6 of 8 threes, and (Noah) Blackwell, who is coming off a hamstring injury, is one of the best point guards in our league in terms of understanding how to run a basketball team. Then you add in (Nate) Grimes and (Sam) Bittner and they have a lot of weapons at the end of the day, and they all have the ability to shoot the basketball. The other thing I love about the way they play is they defend. Kudos to Coach Justin (Hutson) for what he’s been able to do taking over that program.”

Senior Justin James stuffed the stat sheet on the night with 21 points and 12 rebounds for his sixth double-double this season. He also added six assists tying for his second most this season. James added two blocks and three steals. James tied a season-high with three triples and has hit that mark in back-to-back home games.

Senior Jordan Naughton added 10 points for his third game in double figures this season. He was a perfect 4-of-4 from the field, which was a season high. Junior A.J. Banks added seven points, seven rebounds and three assists.

“I keep telling the young guys it doesn’t happen overnight,” Edwards said. “I try to give them examples of guys who’ve played in this league and who’ve played at the University of Wyoming, who their freshman year they were just solid. Then their second year they improved, and then by their junior and senior years they had some seasoning and became really good players. But it’s the microwave era, and it’s hard for them to not have it happen for them right away.”

Wyoming shot 48 percent from the field going 22-of-46. Fresno State countered at 25-of-53 for 47 percent. The Bulldogs were 12-of-25 from the three point line for 48 percent and were 9-of-14 in the second half. UW held the advantage on the glass 31-28 for the first upper hand on the boards in conference play.

Banks and James got the Pokes out to an early 6-2 lead in the opening 90 seconds with the duo each draining a three pointer. The Pokes would go scoreless for over three minutes allowing the Bulldogs to take a 7-6 advantage until a layup from Naughton gave Wyoming an 8-7 lead with 14:47 remaining in the opening half.

The teams would then engage in a back-and-forth affair until Fresno State took an 18-13 lead with about nine minutes remaining using their first three pointer of the game in the process. Naughton would hit back-to-back baskets to make it a two point game at 21-19 with just over seven minutes left.

The Pokes would cut the Fresno State lead to one-point at 27-26 on steal from Banks turned into a layup from James with 3:27 remaining in the half. Fresno State would build the lead to five points (33-27) with under a minutes remaining on a triple from Noah Blackwell. But a pair of free throws from Trevon “TJ” Taylor and a triple from James made it a 33-33 game at the break.

Wyoming used a dunk from Banks and free throws from Trace Young to build a 37-33 lead early in the second frame. But Fresno State added three triples and took a 44-39 lead with 14 minutes remaining in the game.
James would cut the Bulldog lead to one point on a pair of occasions halfway through the half and Young tied the game with a rim rattling fast break dunk with 8:52 left.

The tie was short lived though as Fresno State added their seventh triple of the game to move the lead back to three points. Fresno Stated add another triple and later led 60-53 with 7:20 remaining. Fresno State added 11 more points to build 68-53 advantage with 5:44 remaining.

Wyoming would cut the deficit down to 10 points with just under two minutes remaining, but the Bulldogs maintained the momentum to take the victory.

New Williams added 24 points for the Bulldogs. He went 6-of-8 from the three point line. Noah Blackwell added nine points and three assists, while Sam Bittner led the team with six rebounds.

The Pokes return to action next Wednesday evening at Air Force for a 7 p.m. start.