LAS VEGAS — Bailee Cotton’s eyes watered. Marta Gomez’s face hardened. So did Joe Legerski’s demeanor.
The disappointment was palpable.
Wyoming’s women’s basketball team played in the Mountain West tournament championship game Wednesday for the first time ever, but the Cowgirls’ hopes of making more history and earning a rare NCAA Tournament bid were dashed in Boise State’s runaway 68-51 victory — Wyoming’s largest margin of defeat this season.
Addressing reporters afterward, there was pride voiced in the fact this Wyoming team was the first to give itself a real shot at those dreams, but for Gomez, Cotton and the rest of the Cowgirls’ seniors, it was mixed with the harsh reality that those aspirations will have to be reached without them.
“I think that’s pretty big,” Gomez said, referencing this year’s title game berth. “It didn’t end up well for us, but I’m pretty sure that there’s more of this to come for the freshmen and for the rest of the team.”
But Wyoming’s season isn’t over.
In fact, the Cowgirls will almost certainly have another chance to win a championship. It won’t be in the NCAA Tournament, something the program has only participated in once, but Wyoming is in line for another invite to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
The Cowgirls won’t get the official word until the 64-team WNIT field is unveiled Monday, but they played in the tournament the last two seasons despite not advancing as far in the conference tournament as they did this year after winning 20-plus games in the regular season. They also have a regular-season win over Boise State, which also won the MW’s regular-season title, boosting their resume.
And if the results the past two seasons are any indication, Wyoming may get another game or two back at the Arena-Auditorium. The Cowgirls hosted first- and second-round games both years, going a combined 2-2 in those games.
Should Wyoming get the invitation as expected, it’d be the program’s 11th postseason appearance. The Cowgirls won the WNIT in 2007.
“That’s definitely a plus right now after losing this game because we really have a special group this year,” Gomez said. “We really have a special team, and we just want to keep playing as many games as we can together and just keep enjoying the year that we’ve had.”
Not many expected Wyoming to do all of this after losing MW Player of the Year Liv Roberts to graduation after last season. The Cowgirls were picked to finish fourth in the league’s preseason poll, but behind the league’s stingiest defense and one of the top collective 3-point strokes in the country, Wyoming put together a program-best nine-game conference winning streak and won 11 of 13 down the stretch to do one spot better than that before finishing as runner-up in Las Vegas.
“I give credit to this group,” said Legerski, who’s led Wyoming to all but two of its postseason appearances in his 16 seasons at the helm. “It’s a disappointing night, but they’ll figure out that they were a team that got to the championship game. That’s something that they need to hold their heads high about.”
As for what happened against Boise State, Legerski chalked it up to a high level of execution combined with the experience of a team that’s won three straight MW tournament titles that overwhelmed Wyoming. But the Cowgirls will almost certainly have a chance to write a different ending.
“We just look forward to what’s coming,” Gomez said. “Just keep enjoying the ride.”