LARAMIE — There are no moral victories for a team looking to get back to the women’s NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season.
Despite a 1-2 start to Mountain West play, the Wyoming Cowgirls still feel good about their chances to make another memorable March run.
Wyoming lost 85-76 to New Mexico on Thursday night as the program returned from a two-week COVID-19 pause, which followed its 66-60 loss at UNLV on Dec. 31.
The Cowgirls (5-7 overall) host Air Force on Saturday at the Arena-Auditorium (2 p.m., MW Network) confident they can start climbing the standings after losing to the first-place Lobos (14-4, 5-0) and third-place Rebels (12-4, 4-1).
“I think we’re definitely in the running for being one of the top contenders in the Mountain West. I can’t wait to see how we progress together,” junior guard McKinley Bradshaw said after scoring 27 points against New Mexico. “As we get over our COVID bump, hopefully that doesn’t affect us too much going forward. We are definitely going to be, I would say, one of the top three teams.”
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UW’s conditioning coming off the layoff was an issue, especially on the defensive end, as the Lobos shoot 57.6% from the field with 13 made 3-pointers.
Head coach Gerald Mattinson was pleased with the team’s effort on a night when standouts Allyson Fertig, Alba Sanchez Ramos and Quinn Weidemann struggled offensively, combining for just 10 points on 3-for-17 shooting.
Ola Ustowska and Grace Ellis each scored 14 points off the bench to keep the Cowgirls within striking distance.
“We scored 76 points, made 11 3s,” Mattinson noted. “I’m not happy with the loss, but I’m happy with us hanging in and I’m happy that we’re scoring points still.”
UW expects to bounce back on the defensive end once the players get their legs back.
The Cowgirls were second in the MW in scoring defense, allowing just 56.9 points per game, before the pause.
New Mexico (76.3 ppg) and UNLV (74.9 ppg) are the top two scoring teams in the conference.
“New Mexico, they have caused a lot of people a lot of problems defensively because of their offensive ability, the way they can shoot it and spread you out,” Mattinson said. “This is one game. I think we’ll get back to doing what we do defensively. I don’t think there’s going to be other teams that shoot it like they shot it.”
The Cowgirls watched film and conducted a walkthrough on Friday to prepare for the Falcons (8-7, 2-2), who are only allowing 59.0 points per game and are coming off an impressive 77-52 win at Colorado State.
“What Air Force now poses that’s different on offense is they’re very physical,” Mattinson said. “They try to get out and they try to get physical at the point of the screen, push you, shove you, do all that kind of stuff. You’ve got to be able to play through that.”
UW will play at Boise State next Wednesday. The Cowgirls’ home game against the Broncos that was postponed will now be played on Wednesday, Jan. 26 at the Arena-Auditorium.
Follow UW beat writer Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @By_RyanThorburn