With the Cowgirls’ season-ending loss still just minutes old late Monday night, Wyoming forward Alba Sanchez Ramos was asked if she felt more joy that the Cowgirls had made it this far or disappointment that the journey was over.
Ramos quickly split the difference with some perspective.
“Obviously I want to win. I didn’t come here to lose,” she said. “But it is what it is. I’m very happy. I’m very proud of my team because nobody expected us to come out here, play like this and make it to the NCAAs. So it’s kind of both.”
UW’s hopes of continuing its historic postseason run were dashed in a 21-point loss to UCLA in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament, but the Cowgirls took solace in the fact that they were even taking part in an unusual tournament in the most unusual of seasons in the first place. Ramos alluded to the week-long experience in San Antonio and the surrounding areas amid the coronavirus pandemic, which consisted of all members of UW’s traveling party largely being holed up in their hotel when the team wasn’t practicing.
But playing on the sport’s grandest stage is an experience the Cowgirls weren’t going to get without working their late-season magic.
With an overall record of just 10-9 going into the Mountain West Tournament earlier this month, the Cowgirls were headed for a second straight year of no postseason play unless they made a deep run in Las Vegas. UW had won what turned out to be its final two regular-season games against Utah State in mid-February, but COVID-related issues within the programs of future opponents led to a 22-day layoff between the two-game series against the Aggies and UW’s conference tournament opener.
Perhaps the Cowgirls should take extended breaks more often. As the No. 7 seed, UW won its first three league tournament games by an average of 19.6 points and clamped down on Fresno State in the championship game to become the lowest seed to ever claim the Mountain West tournament title.
“We’ve had everything that can happen happen,” UW coach Gerald Mattinson said.
That put the Cowgirls in the NCAA Tournament for only the second time in program history. And considering the opponent, Mattinson said he didn’t think UW played bad in its first NCAA Tournament game since 2008.
While the Mountain West’s top defense gave up the most points it had since Colorado State also put up 69 against UW back on Feb. 4, the Cowgirls held UCLA to 42.6% shooting, a respectable clip against a UCLA team that was averaging 72 points coming into the matchup.
UW was simply overmatched physically by the Bruins, who finished the regular season ranked ninth in the Associated Press Top 25. UCLA scored 14 more points than the Cowgirls in the paint, grabbed 16 more rebounds and used its length and physicality to make it difficult for UW to operate its offense anywhere on the floor.
“The No. 9 team in the country had a lot to do with (the outcome),” Mattinson said. “I’m proud of what these guys did. We gave up 69 points, which is the most we’ve given up for a while, but my gosh, they score in the high 70s and low 80s. What they did defensively to us, I have to take my hat off to them. They did a really, really great job.”
While it didn’t end how the Cowgirls would’ve hoped, only one team at the end of every season reaches the ultimate goal. UW is largely left with good memories from a season that ended in a place most didn’t think it would.
“We played for each other,” Ramos said. “That’s the biggest thing I’m getting out of this year.”
Follow UW athletics beat writer Davis Potter on Twitter at @DavisEPotter.