LARAMIE, Wyo. (RELEASE)- The Wyoming Cowgirls secured the No. 3 seed in the Mountain West Tournament by taking down league-leading Fresno State (23-6, 16-2 MW) by a final score of 64-55, on “Senior Night” in the Arena-Auditorium. The Cowgirls (16-11, 12-6 MW) have finished in the top three in the league for the fourth-consecutive season.
With his 16th victory this year, head coach Gerald Mattinson passed Chad Lavin’s program record for wins by a first-year head coach, previously set at 15. The Cowgirls will enter the MW Tournament on a five-game winning streak.
“I thought the effort we put out defensively was incredible,” Mattinson said. “We held that team to 55 points. They’re a great offensive team, and a very good team, well-balanced. I thought our effort was there, and it’s been there all year long. We have to spend so much effort defensively all year long for us to stay in games, and that’s just been the history here at Wyoming. Sometimes it takes so offensive firepower away from you, and you get a little fatigued. The road win at Nevada, followed up by this one here, with the style we had to play, answering basket-for-basket, I’m just so proud of our players and our team. I can’t put it into words.”
Senior Taylor Rusk scored 10 points and had seven rebounds, a team-high six assists and a steal in her final game in the Arena-Auditorium. It’s the 12th time this season and the 50th time in her Cowgirl career she has reached double-digit scoring. The six assists are a season high, and marks the fourth time this year and 19th time in her career she has had at least five assists in a game. The senior shot 4-of-7 from the field, including 2-of-4 from three.
Redshirt junior Selale Kepenc had a team-high 13 points, all in the fourth quarter, for her second double-digit scoring output of the season and a new season high mark. She shot 4-of-10 from the field and 3-of-8 from three. In the fourth quarter alone, she went 4-of-4 from the field and 3-of-3 from three-point range. Kepenc added two rebounds for the Cowgirls.
Sophomore Tereza Vitulova had 12 points on 6-of-12 shooting and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds, including seven defensive boards. Vitulova tied her career-high with two blocks, and reached double-figure scoring for the 20th time this season. The Czech Republic native dished out one assist, as well.
Freshman Jaeden Vaifanua put up 12 points and four rebounds in 10 minutes off the bench for the Cowgirls. It is the 10th time this season, the ninth time against a Mountain West foe and the sixth time in the last eight games the Draper, Utah, product has reached double-figure scoring. Vaifanua added a steal on the defensive end.
Freshman McKinley Bradshaw scored six points, all in the fourth quarter, to help bolster Wyoming’s 31-0 advantage over Fresno State in bench scoring. Sophomore Alba Sanchez Ramos scored six points, while sophomore Quinn Weidemann poured in five points.
“Selale played well, McKinley played well and everyone played well,” Mattinson said. “I just think if you went in and gave us a couple minutes or 10 minutes, or whatever you did, everyone that went in contributed in some way. That’s what you need this time of year to win games.”
The Cowgirls shot 43.3 percent (26-60) from the field, 32.0 percent (8-25) from three and went a perfect 4-of-4 from the free throw line. Wyoming had 15 assists to just 13 turnovers, marking the second game in a row with a positive assist-to-turnover ratio.
Vitulova opened the game’s scoring with a hook shot in the paint, but Fresno State scored on the next possession to answer. Fresno State took a 6-4 lead, but the Cowgirls then scored nine straight to go up 13-6 and force a Bulldog timeout with 4:20 to play in the quarter. The Cowgirls would never trail again. Out of the break, the Cowgirls scored five more before Fresno State ended the run with a free throw to end a 6:17 scoring drought. Vaifanua added a layup before the buzzer, and the Cowgirls led 20-7 after one quarter.
The Bulldogs started the second quarter with a pair of layups before Vitulova scored off an offensive rebound. With the Cowgirls in an extended scoring drought, Fresno State added four points before Vaifanua scored a pair of jumpers in the paint to keep UW’s double-digit lead, 26-15 with 2:04 to play in the half. The Bulldogs scored five more in a row, and Vaifanua ended the mini-run with pair of free throws to give UW a 28-20 halftime lead.
The Bulldogs struck first in the second half with a jumper and a three to make it 28-25 and forcing a Cowgirl timeout just 1:01 into the quarter. Out of the break, Vitulova scored a layup, and after a Bulldog layup, Rusk scored five straight to make it 35-27 with 6:40 to play in the third. The squads traded points until a Vaifanua jumper gave the Cowgirls a 41-31 lead at the 3:58 mark. After a Weidemann jumper, Fresno State scored seven straight. A Rusk jumper gave UW a 45-38 lead after three quarters.
Fresno State scored a driving layup to start the fourth, but Kepenc answered on the other end to keep it a seven-point game. After a Bulldog and-one play, the Cowgirls went on an 8-0 run to force a Fresno State timeout with UW leading 55-43 at the 5:21 mark. Out of the break, Fresno State scored four straight, but Bradshaw drained a three in front of the Cowgirl bench with 3:34 to play. The Bulldogs scored a pair of free throws, and Kepenc answered with back-to-back threes to make the lead 64-49. However, the Bulldogs went on a 6-0 run of their own, and with 26. 1 seconds to play, the Cowgirls led 64-59 an dribbled out the clock for the win.
The Cowgirls will next make their run for the Mountain West Tournament championship on Monday, March 2 in Las Vegas, Nev. The Cowgirls will face the winner of the San Diego State and Utah State play-in game held on Sunday.