LAS VEGAS — The Wyoming women’s basketball team showed Tuesday night that no lead was safe, overcoming a 17-point first-half deficit to beat New Mexico in the quarterfinals. Wednesday night, it looked like Wyoming’s comeback skills wouldn’t be necessary.
The third-seeded Cowgirls jumped out to a 7-0 start against seventh-seeded Nevada, seeming to leave Tuesday’s sluggish start behind them. Instead, Nevada scored the game’s next 11 points, and Wyoming spent most of the night playing from behind — not by 17, granted, but by just enough. The Cowgirls trailed for the game’s final 23 minutes and, despite getting within one point in the final minute, fell one game short of a championship appearance, 67-63.
“We definitely had some hope at the end,” sophomore Taylor Rusk said, “and then it kind of got taken away from us. But I’m proud of us for fighting. We could have let up in those last couple minutes, and we didn’t. I think that shows a lot of who our team is.”
Just over a week ago, the Wolf Pack did Wyoming a favor by blowing out UNLV to keep the Cowgirls in a tie for first place. That game might have lit a spark, however, that burned Wyoming on Wednesday. After winning just five of their first 16 conference games, the Wolf Pack have now ridden a five-game winning streak into the Mountain West tournament championship game.
Wyoming struggled to get the stops it needed for much of the night, allowing Nevada to shoot 50 percent from the field in the second half and 55.6 percent from 3 in the game.
“I honestly don’t think that we brought our best defense,” Wyoming senior Liv Roberts said. “... That’s one thing that’s disappointing. We didn’t play our best. We usually don’t give up that many points, but they were making shots.”
Still, the Cowgirls were positioned for some potential late-game heroics. A Marta Gomez three-point play with 56.3 seconds to play capped a 5-0 run for Gomez and got Wyoming within one point. Nevada badly missed a 3-point heave at the end of the shot clock on the next possession, but after getting the rebound along the sideline, Wyoming junior Sladjana Rakovic threw the ball to no one in particular and Nevada got the ball right back. A pair of Wolf Pack misses at the free-throw line gave Wyoming life, even with an out-of-bounds call being flipped to Nevada’s possession on review. Selale Kepenc had the chance to tie the game with a 3-pointer in the final seconds, but it was well off-target.
Wyoming went 6:14 without a point during Nevada’s 11-0 run in the first quarter, which ended with Wyoming’s only other points of the quarter, a Rusk layup.
“I think we were just kind of beating ourselves up,” Roberts said. “Especially Natalie Baker and I. I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t have the best game, and you have to bring your best here to win against the best.”
Roberts, the Mountain West player of the year, was held to nine points on 2-of-7 shooting. Baker, the only other senior to play, scored three points on 1-of-8 shooting.
Wyoming used an 8-0 run midway through the second quarter to regain the lead, but it went the final 4:08 of the half without a field goal.
The Cowgirls hit four of their first six shots in the second half, but couldn’t get the corresponding stops on defense, as the Wolf Pack hit their first four shots of the third quarter. Wyoming had the chance to take a lead on a 3-point attempt by Kepenc, but it bounced high off the heel, and Nevada began a 6-0 run.
The Wolf Pack pushed its lead to as many as nine in the fourth quarter, before Wyoming’s 15-7 run ended on Gomez’s and-1.
Rusk once again led Wyoming in scoring, posting 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Gomez scored 13 points off the bench for the second consecutive game.
T Moe led Nevada with 17 points, while Teige Zeller added 16, and Camariah King scored 11. The Wolf Pack turned the ball over just three times all game, while Wyoming had 10 turnovers. Nevada will face regular-season champion Boise State at 1 p.m. Mountain Time on Friday in the final.
The Wolf Pack reached the game by beating No. 10 San Diego State in overtime in the first round of the tournament and No. 2 UNLV in double overtime in the quarterfinals. After a first-round bye, Wyoming defeated the sixth-seeded Lobos 69-66.
The Cowgirls swept the regular-season series with Nevada, winning 66-60 on Jan. 3 in Laramie and 65-62 on Jan. 24 in Reno, Nevada. Wyoming now waits to see if will receive an WNIT invite.