The CSU women’s basketball team (10-20, 5-12 MWC) pulled off a 64-56 upset in the Mountain West Conference Tournament Tuesday, sending the Wyoming Cowgirls (16-14, 8-9 MWC) back to Laramie.
“Wyoming is definitely a good team, and they can shoot. They are a good offensive team,” said head coach Kristen Holt. “I just felt like the two times we played them this year, we just did not play our style. We talked about playing our game and making them play with us, and that was for sure what we did.”
The Rams advance to the second round, to where they will do battle with the New Mexico Lobos (21-9, 10-7 MWC), who won the first game of Tuesday’s triple-header over Air Force 84-41.
“I like the idea that it is hard to beat a team three times, and we just keep getting better,” sophomore Bonnie Barbee said. “It was nice for our seniors to get that win.”
The Cowgirls attempted a final comeback, pulling to within six points in less than two minutes after Hilary Carlson connected on one of her two free throw attempts. Carlson finished the game as the leading scorer with 17 points.
Wyoming was then forced to foul CSU with sophomore Zoi Simmons and freshman Kim Mestdagh extending the Rams lead to eight points, sealing the win.
The Cowgirls outscored the Rams in the second half 32-26, shooting 42.6 percent from the field, but because of a halftime deficit of 16 points, Wyoming was unable to catch CSU before the final buzzer.
“(Wyoming) came out in a zone, so it kind of threw us off for a second in the second half, and they got a few deflections and steals,” Barbee said. “Then we kind of calmed down, and we also went through a low where we did not score for awhile. And then we snapped out of that and got our bearings back together.”
The Rams dominated the first half, as CSU shot 50 percent from the field and did not allow the Cowgirls to hit a single three-point shot. Wyoming’s first half three-point shooting was a big reason the Rams fell to the Cowgirls in both regular season matchups.
“We were taking some shots that we normally don’t take and shoot, and we were making them,” Holt said.
CSU jumped out to a 20-point lead with 2:20 left in the half after freshman Meghan Heimstra sank a jumper. Wyoming ended the first half with a 6-0 run sparked by Megan McGuffey, who concluded the game with 13 points for the Cowgirls.
The Rams picked up a 23-10 lead in the first 10 minutes of play. Wyoming only led once in Tuesday’s matchup, 1-0, in the first two minutes and tied the game at three for only a minute before CSU took complete control, never relinquishing the lead.
For the Rams, senior forward Amaka Uzomah became the player of the game with 11 points and nine rebounds.
“I am very excited, and I cannot wait until tomorrow,” Uzomah said. “It feels really good after looking at the record of not winning a game in seven years against (Wyoming). We finally got that win and broke that rivalry war.”
Uzomah’s teammates, Simmons and sophomore guard Bonnie Barbee, all concluded the first round matchup with 11 points. Heimstra was second in scoring for the Rams with nine points in her 16 minutes of play.
The Rams were still unable to contain Emma Langford of Wyoming, as she tallied 16 points against the CSU defense. Langford averaged 17.5 points in her two previous games against the Rams.
The Rams will now have to take on New Mexico tomorrow afternoon in the second round of the tournament.
“We are just going to come at (New Mexico) hard and give it our best,” Barbee said.
New Mexico was the team that ended the Rams surprising run in last year’s tournament. The Lobos have defeated CSU twice this season by an average of eight points, and the Rams are looking for revenge – for this year and last year.
“We have got to keep up the same effort as we had today with the same intensity, coming out running and pushing the ball — not giving up. We have to come out fighting doing it for ourselves, coach, our staff and CSU,” Uzomah said.
If CSU defeats New Mexico, they will face No. 1 San Diego State because the Rams are now the lowest seeded MWC team in the tournament.
Tipoff for the quarterfinal matchup is set for 5:30 p.m. MST and will be broadcast on the Mtn. (Comcast 411; DirecTV 616).
Women’s basketball beat writer Justin Warren can be reached at email@example.com.