LARAMIE — The Wyoming men’s and women’s basketball teams are fighting different battles at the moment, but they’re both as close as can be.
The women’s team is currently atop the Mountain West with an 11-3 conference record. UNLV also has an 11-3 record, but Wyoming holds the head-to-head tiebreaker, because of the Cowgirls’ recent win over the Rebels — the only time the teams will meet this regular season.
And it’s not just Wyoming and UNLV contending for the regular season conference title. Boise State and Fresno State each have 11 Mountain West wins as well, though they also each have four losses. And Colorado State is currently 10-5 in conference play.
“This has been a tremendous conference race, to have four teams within a game,” Cowgirls head coach Joe Legerski said. “We’re down to the last two weeks. But then when I look back at this week, I think there were three overtime games, and we’re a shot away from being in overtime for a fourth game. And so I think that just shows the competitiveness, and that each and every night out you’d better be ready to play.
“There’s very few of what I call the ‘20-point ball games,’ where you’re sitting in the last 3 minutes, and everybody’s just relaxed. It’s coming right down to you have to make plays, and we’ve been in several of them. And that’s been a good sign for us, when we’re in some basketball games.”
The Cowgirls recently survived a road contest at San Jose State, which is now 3-11 in conference play. Wyoming trailed by as many as 14 and as many as eight in the fourth quarter, but rallied to take the lead on a Marta Gomez turn-around jump shot with 0.7 second to play. After a timeout, San Jose State appeared to hit a shot at the buzzer to send the game to overtime, but upon review, the officials decided that the ball was not released in time.
“That would have been a bad loss for us,” senior Liv Roberts said.
While the Wyoming men’s team’s chances of a regular-season championship are decidedly slim — first-place Nevada has a four-game lead on the Cowboys with four games to go — the Pokes can still achieve a top-five spot in the final standings. Those five teams receive a first-round bye in next month’s conference tournament.
The Cowboys are currently tied for fourth place with UNLV and New Mexico at 8-6. Fresno State is in third at 9-5, while Boise State is 11-4 and Nevada is 12-2. Wyoming plays three of those teams in its final four games before the conference tournament, including a game Tuesday night against New Mexico.
“Big game,” Cowboys head coach Allen Edwards said. “Not that any game is not big, but just from both of us being tied in the fourth spot. But, glad to have them here instead of at their place.”
Wyoming lost last month in Albuquerque, New Mexico, by nine points. If the Cowboys win Tuesday, they will temporarily move themselves into the top five — or, at least, temporarily move New Mexico outside of it. But road games at Fresno State and Boise State will yield no easy victories. The Cowboys handed the Broncos one of their few conferences losses this season but lost to the Bulldogs by 18 points at home.
“I brought it up to them yesterday after practice and within our preparation for them,” Edwards said of the standings. “Because I think right now, with four games left in the season — well, to be honest with you, you’ve got to pick and choose when to do that. You can’t do it all the time. But with it winding down, and everybody’s jockeying right now for position, I think it was only right that I bring it up to them.
“Because whether we brought it up or not, I’m sure they understand. Because as much as we would like to think as coaches that our guys don’t pay attention to all this other stuff, I’m sure they know. So it was just good that it was brought to their attention and how, in a sense, this one is important for us.”
While the Wyoming women’s team has not yet cemented a top-five spot, the New Mexico women’s team is currently in sixth place at 8-6, meaning the Cowgirls have some room to work with.
A bye could provide relief for both Wyoming teams, considering they each had the last of their two Mountain West byes more than a month ago.