LARAMIE – The University of Wyoming women's basketball team beat Air Force fairly handily on Feb. 6, building a 25-point lead en route to an 80-60 win.
The win was part of UW’s recent nine-game winning streak in the Mountain West, and also exacted a bit of revenge from a late-season loss at Air Force the season before.
But it didn’t take all the sting away from losing that game almost exactly one year ago.
“I was thinking earlier this week that we beat them once here, but even with that, I don’t think that’s enough,” UW senior forward Bailee Cotton said. “We need to get that win there to prove ourselves again.”
The Cowgirls (18-6 overall, 11-4 Mountain West) get that chance at 2 p.m. today at Air Force (8-18, 4-11).
UW would have clinched no worse than a regular-season tie for the MW title had it beat Air Force last season. Instead, then-senior Liv Roberts came down with strep throat and couldn’t play, and the Falcons took advantage for a 57-47 win.
The Cowgirls would then lose at home to Boise State three nights later to end the regular season with a third-place finish.
A lot has changed since that meeting last season, most notably how much better Air Force has gotten.
Once the doormat of the MW, the Falcons have won four conference games this season to sit in ninth place, just one game behind San Diego State. Air Force is also 7-5 at home this season, with MW wins against Nevada, Colorado State, San Jose State and San Diego State.
“(Air Force) has very talented young players that only continue to get better,” Cowgirls coach Joe Legerski said. “We’ve got to handle their aggressiveness and match that.
“(Wednesday) against Fresno, we were not aggressive in the first half, and definitely were not aggressive in that fourth quarter.”
That lack of aggressiveness and three straight turnovers in the final two minutes allowed Fresno State to rally for a 66-64 win to stop UW’s winning streak.
The loss also likely knocked the Cowgirls out of any chance of a regular-season title. UW trails Boise State by two games with three to play for each team, while UW also trails New Mexico by a game for second place.
Yet there could be some good to come out of the first loss for the Cowgirls in more than a month.
With no more talk of winning streaks and regular-season titles, UW can get back to doing what it likes to do best – simply work on getting better each day.
“Now the pressure is over, and we know we have to learn from our mistakes,” Cowgirls senior forward Marta Gomez said. “We know we’re not as good as everybody says we are when we win, but we’re not as bad as we were last night (against FSU). Now we just need to be ready for everybody and not worry about things like winning streaks and stuff like that.”
The Cowgirls turned the ball over 16 times against Fresno State’s full-court zone press Wednesday, none more critical than late in the game, when three straight miscues led to a 6-0 Bulldogs run and a 61-57 lead with 58 seconds left.
UW expects Air Force to continue that pressure today.
The Cowgirls had 15 turnovers in the first meeting in Laramie, but also shot 62.5 percent from the field (35-56) and scored 50 of their 80 points in the paint.
Cotton led five Cowgirls in double figures in that game with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Gomez finished with 15 points, while Taylor Rusk had 11, Sladjana Rakovic had 13 and Tereza Vitulova scored 10 off the bench.
UW will once again have to handle Air Force’s physical style of defense that relies on a lot of clutching, grabbing and bumping as the other team tries to run its offense.
“We need to keep our composure and play our game and be ready for everything,” Gomez said. “They play hard, and we have experienced that. No matter what they do to us, we just need to keep playing hard.”
Today’s game starts a stretch of three games in six days for UW to end the regular season. The Cowgirls will host San Jose State at 6:30 p.m. Monday for Senior Night and finish the regular season Thursday at New Mexico.
UW’s MW tournament action begins March 11 in Las Vegas.
Gomez enters today’s game needing three 3-pointers to pass Kayla Woodward for No. 2 all-time. Gomez has 240 treys on her career. … Cotton has recorded multiple steals in four straight games. … Rusk continues to rank in the top 10 nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio. Rusk’s mark of 3.61-to-1 is sixth. … Gomez will match Lisa Hynes for No. 11 all-time in games played with 118 today.
Scott Nulph is the WyoSports assistant editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-755-3324. Follow him on Twitter at @ScottNulph.