It always comes up this time of year for the University of Wyoming women’s basketball team.
With all the success the program has enjoyed over the 16 years since Joe Legerski took over the program, the Cowgirls have never played in the postseason conference championship game, let alone win it.
Last season they came oh-so-close, falling 67-63 to Nevada in the semifinals.
There was also a triple-overtime loss to Colorado State in the 2014 semifinals one season after losing on a last-second shot to Fresno State in 2013.
Maybe what those teams lacked is what the current Cowgirls team has plenty of this season: confidence.
The Cowgirls (20-7) enter the Mountain West Championship as the No. 3 seed and will play No. 6 Utah State (16-14) at 9:30 p.m. Monday at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
Utah State beat No. 11 seed Colorado State 62-59 Sunday.
UW won 11 of its past 13 games within the MW – including a nine-game winning streak – to earn a top-three seed in the postseason tournament for the third consecutive season.
“Confidence is high,” Cowgirls coach Joe Legerski said. “We’ve talked all season long about the senior leadership, how well Bailee (Cotton has) played, Marta (Gomez), Clara (Tapia) and I’d throw Taylor (Rusk) in there. And there’s nights when other people have stepped up as well.”
UW enters the postseason ranked first in the MW in scoring defense (56.4 points), field goal percentage (45.6 percent), 3-point percentage (39.2) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.4-to-1).
Gomez, a senior forward, has been the catalyst for the Cowgirls this season.
Coming off back-to-back MW sixth player of the year awards, Gomez established herself as one of the top players in the league this season. Gomez not only leads the MW in 3-point shooting at 48.5 percent, she leads the nation in the category. She is also first in free throw shooting (92.3 percent), third in scoring (15.7 points) and 19th in rebounding (4.8 rebounds).
Gomez is also the only player in the MW in the 50-40-90 club – shooting 52.3 percent overall to go with her 3-point and free throw shooting percentages.
Gomez has embraced being a senior and appears to relish the chance to lead the Cowgirls to their first MW championship game appearance.
“You know now that this is the last chance you have in the tournament so this is the last opportunity for this group to get a championship,” she said. “I don’t think that going or not going to the NCAAs is a factor, we just need to focus on each game and we’ll see what happens.”
Another senior to embrace her final season has been Cotton.
After averaging single digits in each of her two seasons, Cotton has become a force on offense at 11.4 points and leading the team in rebounding (8.8) while continuing to be one of the top post defenders in the conference.
Cotton said a key for UW this week will be to remain aggressive offensively. She said in the games UW has lost – especially the Fresno State loss Feb. 27 – the team became a little timid down the stretch.
“We know we can beat the top teams in our league and play with everyone,” Cotton said. “Having that experience and knowing what it takes and knowing that everyone is coming after you in the tournament is going to be huge for us.
“We’ve been there before and know that we need that aggressiveness and not let other teams take control of the game.”
The Cowgirls arrived in Las Vegas on Friday and practiced Saturday and again today not knowing who their quarterfinal opponent will be. But they know both possibilities well.
UW split with Utah State, losing 50-42 in Logan, Utah, and winning 53-35 in Laramie. The Cowgirls swept CSU 60-49 and 56-32.
“It feels weird not knowing who you’re going to play, but we’ve played against all of the teams and we know how everybody plays,” Gomez said. “We know it’s either going to be Utah State or CSU and we’ve played against them twice.
“We can get ready for both of them because there’s really not much different they can do.”
With a win Monday, UW would play again at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday in a semifinal game. … UW has never played Utah State in the postseason tournament and is 2-5 against Colorado State. … Cotton starts the postseason 14 rebounds short of 700 for her career. Only 13 other Cowgirls have every recorded 700 or more rebounds.