It was one thing for Wyoming women’s basketball coach Gerald Mattinson to talk to his players about UCLA’s size and athleticism during film sessions leading up to the Cowgirls’ first NCAA Tournament game in 13 years.
It was something else entirely for them to witness it firsthand.
“We never played nobody like these guys,” UW forward Alba Sanchez Ramos said.
As a result, UW’s first NCAA Tournament win will have to wait.
The Cowgirls’ historic postseason run came to an end Monday night inside the Frank C. Erwin Center on the campus of the University of Texas. On the heels of its first-ever Mountain West tournament championship, UW rode a season-best six-game winning streak into its first-round matchup with the third-seeded Bruins.
The Cowgirls hoped to make more history by becoming the first 14 seed to ever win a women’s NCAA Tournament game, but they were overmatched in a 69-48 loss. Ramos paced UW with 15 points and 10 rebounds while McKinley Bradshaw added 13 points, but UCLA used the kind of length and physicality UW hadn’t gone up against all season to make life difficult for the Cowgirls on the offensive end while owning the paint.
The end result was UW’s second-largest margin of defeat this season.
“We haven’t seen anything like that all year, and we can’t simulate that in practice,” Mattinson said. “When you see that for real and when you see Alba trying to box out — and she’s doing a great job — they’re just jumping over you or sometimes it’s their physical size and you can’t move them out.”
UW brought the Mountain West’s top scoring defense into the matchup, which was particularly stifling during the conference tournament. None of the Cowgirls’ opponents in Las Vegas scored more than 56 points or shot better than 40% from the field, but none of those teams were UCLA.
Behind All-American Michaela Onyenwere, who poured in a game-high 25 points, the Bruins shot 43% from the floor with most of their success coming from close range. UCLA scored 34 of its points in the paint and outrebounded the Cowgirls 43-27.
Charisma Osborne and Natalie Chou each added 15 points for the Bruins, who led by as many as 23 in the second half. UCLA, which pulled down 17 of its boards on the offensive end, scored 27 points off second chances (15) and turnovers (12).
“I thought we played hard. Thought we competed,” Mattinson said. “That’s what we want to do. We just can’t match that.”
Twelve turnovers only began to tell the story of the Cowgirls’ offensive struggles against UCLA’s size and athleticism. UW shot just 33.3% overall, often failing to create enough separation from the Bruins’ defenders to get clean looks at the basket.
Quinn Weidemann was the only other player to finish in double figures, but she needed 16 shots to score 11 points. After shooting better than 50% from 3-point range during the Mountain West Tournament, Weidemann finished 1 of 6 from deep for the Cowgirls, who made just five of their 18 3-pointers.
“It was honestly pretty hard (to get into our offensive sets),” Ramos said. “We needed a better pace, and we couldn’t get it. We needed to catch it closer to the rim, and we couldn’t do that. They just threw us off our motion, and we couldn’t play our offense at all.”
UW trailed by double digits less than four minutes into the game and faced a 23-11 deficit after the first quarter. The Cowgirls had no answers for Onyenwere in particular, so the Bruins’ lead continued to methodically grow.
The Bruins’ star 6-foot forward, who was averaging 18.7 points coming in, nearly matched that in the first two quarters. Onyenwere handled the ball around the perimeter but used her size advantage against some of UW’s smaller guards to consistently get in the lane off the bounce, scoring 15 of her points in the first two quarters.
All but one of her nine field goals came inside the 3-point line.
“She’s a really, really good player,” Mattinson said. “We tried to take away her left shoulder turn. We tried to double her in the second half. We tried a lot of things, and she had an answer. They had an answer, to be quite honest with you, for everything we tried.”
UCLA led 40-26 at the break and stretched the advantage to 61-41 after three quarters. With just two field goals in the fourth, UW never seriously threatened the Bruins the rest of the way.
But the Cowgirls aren’t exactly leaving Texas feeling bad about the way things ended. Not when they weren’t expected to be in the tournament in the first place.
The Cowgirls, who ended the regular season just one game above .500, likely wouldn’t have been part of any postseason tournament had they not become the lowest seed ever to win the Mountain West Tournament. They had a run of eight wins in 10 games to earn their first NCAA bid since 2008.
On Monday, UW simply ran into a better team.
“I’m happy with what they’ve done,” Mattinson said. “I’m happy with what they did tonight. I’m proud of them. When we were done, we were going to walk out of here with our heads held high because we gave everything we had. And that’s what we’re going to do because that’s what we did.”
Follow UW athletics beat writer Davis Potter on Twitter at @DavisEPotter.