LARAMIE — Wyoming’s women’s basketball team was down a starter against the Mountain West’s second-best team from a record standpoint.
But one of Wyoming’s own was more than good enough to make up for it and got plenty of help as the Cowgirls kept pace near the top of the league standings in the process.
Wyoming shot 50 percent from the floor and held the league’s highest-scoring team to 32 points below its average, cruising past San Jose State for an 80-45 win Saturday at the Arena-Auditorium. Wyoming remained four games back of unbeaten Fresno State atop the MW standings but moved just two games back of the Spartans for second place with seven games left before the MW Tournament.
“I don’t know what I expected (coming into the season),” said Gerald Mattinson, who’s in his first season as Wyoming’s head coach after being promoted following Joe Legerski’s retirement. “All I wanted to do, to be honest with you, is I wanted us to try to get better and better and better and better as the year went on. I wanted us to be trying to play our best probably about now or in the next couple of weeks.”
The Cowgirls did it without Karla Erjavec for the second straight game as the sophomore guard continues to deal with an illness. Mattinson said afterward he didn’t know how long Erjavec would be out and didn’t rule out the possibility that Wyoming may have to play the rest of the season without her.
Erjavec is averaging 6.8 points and 3.5 assists on the season, but her replacement, Tommi Olson, did her part to help pick up the slack in Wyoming’s third straight win.
Making her second straight start, Olson, a Worland native, set a career-high with 12 rebounds — the most for any Wyoming player this season — and had seven of Wyoming’s 11 steals, which tied the most for a Cowgirl in a single game in program history. Olson also dished out six assists.
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“She never gets tired,” said Jaeden Vaifanua, who scored a career-high 20 points off the bench for Wyoming. “She’s just all over the place.”
Said Mattinson, “We joke with her and call her the Energizer bunny because she just goes and goes and goes and goes. But that’s OK because right now she’s making really good decisions when she’s going and going and going, and defensively she’s really understanding what we’re trying to do and what she’s being asked to do.”
Quinn Weidemann and Selale Kepenc added 14 and 12 points, respectively. Forward Tereza Vitulova, the only Cowgirl averaging double figures this season (14.4 points per game), made her usual contribution with 10 points and five rebounds, but it was the 5-foot-6 Olson that proved to be a pest for a SJSU team that came in averaging 77.6 points while also leading the MW in 3-point field-goal percentage (37.3) and assists (17.4).
SJSU finished with 13 more turnovers (21) than assists (8) with Wyoming turning those takeaways into 23 points. The Cowgirls held the Spartans to 32.7 percent shooting from the field, including a 33.3-percent clip from 3-point range, while Olson’s scrappiness on the boards helped the Cowgirls dominate on the interior as Wyoming finished plus-16 (43-27) on the glass and outscored SJSU 54-18 in the paint.
“The post (players), the guards and everyone just kind of boxed everyone out,” Olson said. “With my player heading back, it gives me easy access to just go get those loose balls and get going the other direction.”
Wyoming led 13-9 after the opening quarter and exploded for 23 points in the second to expand the lead to 36-21 at the half. Olson grabbed seven rebounds and added four assists and three steals in the first two quarters in helping the Cowgirls pull off their most lopsided conference win of the season, besting their 24-point victory over Nevada on Jan. 15.
“I thought our defense was outstanding,” Mattinson said. “I thought it was as good as it’s probably been for 40 minutes the entire year.”
Wyoming will try to continue its winning streak Wednesday at Boise State.
Follow UW athletics beat writer Davis Potter on Twitter at @DavisEPotter.