LAS VEGAS — Wyoming’s women’s basketball team won’t get another shot at New Mexico.
Instead, the Cowgirls got a more favorable draw in the Mountain West tournament semifinals.
Wyoming got there with a 64-41 quarterfinal win over Utah State late Monday night at the Thomas & Mack Center. Senior forward Marta Gomez led four Cowgirls in double figures with a game-high 19 points as Wyoming cruised to the largest margin of victory in the tournament so far.
“I thought we executed at a very high level,” Wyoming coach Joe Legerski said. “Then when you have Marta and Bailee (Cotton) to get you going offensively, it makes it a game where all of a sudden in the second half we can kind of determine how we want to play it.”
If the tournament went chalk, the win would’ve pit the third-seeded Cowgirls against New Mexico, which earned the tournament’s No. 2 seed after going 14-4 in league play during the regular season, in Tuesday’s semifinals. New Mexico, which swept Wyoming during the regular season, is the only league foe the Cowgirls haven’t beaten this season.
But the Lobos were sent home early by San Diego State, which used overtime to upset New Mexico in the first game of the night session. It leaves Wyoming needing to get past the tournament’s No. 7 seed — and an SDSU team that will be playing its third game in as many days — to advance to the MW tournament championship for the first time in program history.
“It may not affect them, but as the game goes on and as the minutes go on, I know that their legs will start to get tired,” Cotton said. “My legs got a little tired going into the fourth quarter (tonight), so I’m sure that hopefully theirs will anyway for our sake.”
Wyoming scored the second-most points it has all season (87) in a 42-point rout of SDSU in the teams’ only meeting this season, but that was back on Jan. 19 in Laramie. SDSU has won four in a row to match its longest winning streak of the season while Wyoming was won 12 of its last 14.
“What I look at is they defeated New Mexico, and that’s something we’ve not done this year,” Legerski said. “That’s a challenge in and of itself. The way the conference is set up to play some teams only once, and that happened to be us playing them in the first week of January at our place. They’ve improved tremendously.”
Clinching a semifinal berth for the second straight year was never in jeopardy for the Cowgirls, who grabbed a double-digit lead before the first quarter was over and added on from there. Wyoming was its usual stifling self on defense but added efficient offense to lead by as many as 27.
The Cowgirls shot nearly 60 percent (11 of 23) from the field in the first half for a 37-21 halftime lead and didn’t cool off much, shooting 53.2 percent (25 of 47) for the game. Utah State specifically had no answer for the inside-out combination of Gomez and Cotton, who each had 10 points in the first 10 minutes and combined to go 11 of 15 from the floor. Cotton finished with 14 points and nine rebounds while Karla Erjavec and Clara Tapia added 10 points apiece.
“Our motion offense, we’ve practiced that for four years,” Gomez said. “We’ve really mastered the motion offense, and I think it’s really hard to guard.”
Said Utah State’s Shannon Dufficy, “They were unstoppable tonight. We couldn’t match it.”
Wyoming maintained its large cushion throughout by holding the Aggies to 34.5 percent shooting (19 of 55) from the field and less than that (2 of 11) from 3-point range.
The Cowgirls, who came in allowing a league-low 56.4 points per game, also forced Utah State into nine turnovers and finished plus-12 (35-23) on the glass.
Dufficy was the lone Aggie to reach double figures with 17 points.
“They just really tightened the screws on us defensively, and we just had a hard time executing what we wanted to execute offensively,” Utah State coach Jerry Finkbeiner said. “I think at the defensive level, even though they shot the ball so well, they didn’t give us a chance to get in it offensively. Credit Wyoming. They were just really good tonight.”