LARAMIE — Considering the first-place Wyoming women’s basketball team’s potential for an exciting March and the fact that Air Force is in last place, it might seem that the obvious challenge Tuesday for the Cowgirls is to not look past the Falcons and ahead to the regular-season finale against Boise State.
That’s not what head coach Joe Legerski is concerned about, however.
“Not at all,” he said. “What this team’s been able to do all year is focus on the task at hand. ... We’re just trying to make sure that we keep taking the next game (as) another accomplishment and keep moving everything forward.”
What he is worried about, though, are the facts that the game is on the road, that the Falcons have outplayed their last-place pedigree and that these teams haven’t yet played one another.
“That’s a big challenge for us to catch them (so late),” Legerski said. “What a quirk in the schedule. You come right down to the last two games of the season and you’re playing somebody for the first time. That’s highly unusual as well.
“... It’s very difficult. You’re still just basing everything off film, and you always get a better feel of somebody the second time around. You understand how they’re trying to attack you. When you watch film, it’s basically how they’re attacking someone else. And so it’s a big challenge, but it’s also a challenge for Air Force. But yet with them having it at the academy, I’d like to have this game in Laramie.”
He won’t get his wish, though. Air Force is the only Mountain West team that does not play at the Arena-Auditorium this season.
“Like everyone else,” Legerski said, “you always play better at home.”
The Falcons went winless in nonconference play and have just three conference wins. But two of those wins came against San Diego State, the team that beat Wyoming to start the Mountain West season. In fact, Air Force picked up a win at Viejas Arena less than a week ago. And even in the Falcons’ 13 conference losses, just five have had final margins greater than 10 points.
“They play very competitively,” Legerski said. “When you take a look at their scores, I know Colorado State beat them by a point at the Academy. Everybody else, the games are somewhere between two and eight points. So we’re expecting a very difficult game, a challenge.”
One way that Air Force has been able to give teams a challenge is by going small.
“I think one of the things with the academy is that because they do not play with a true post player, they’re able to put more pressure on you,” Legerski said. “And so now all of a sudden they’re making everybody be able to put the ball on the floor. They switch easily between players and then on the offensive end for the academy, we’ve got to find somebody that our five can defend. And that becomes a challenge to try to ask our four and our five to basically be guarding twos and threes.
“And so that’s something that I think has really been in their favor, and I think that’s why you see the scores so close. And they’ve been winning games here at home, and that’s the challenge for us right now.”
Those mismatches can go either way, which could potentially make for a big game for players like Bailee Cotton, who matched career highs with 19 points and 12 rebounds Saturday against Fresno State.
“But now it’s a matter of being able to get the ball to our post, specifically with the pressure that they’re going to apply,” Legerski said. “They’ll pick you up 94 feet. We’ve seen a lot of that this year, so hopefully we’re used to it and we can, once again, transition, find easy baskets, and that’s going to be important for us. But we do have to handle the pressure, specifically their full-court pressure.”
Either way, Legerski doesn’t anticipate changing his starting lineup.
“No, we’ve got to do what we do and then see how the game flows,” he said. “We do not have the personnel to basically size down. With our guard line, we have one point guard in Clara (Tapia) and then we’re just limited with perimeter players.
“So to be able to size down does not work for us. We’d be better off if it was a bigger team, where we could end up playing some of our fours as a three. But the opposite direction does not work.”
In other words, the Cowgirls can’t afford to take this one lightly.