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NCAA Women's Basketball: Wyoming vs UNLV

Wyoming's Bailee Cotton drives against UNLV during their game earlier this season at the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie.

LARAMIE — The first time the Wyoming women’s basketball team faced the Fresno State Bulldogs, it scored 47 points, a season low in Mountain West play. Saturday, Wyoming quite literally flipped the script, scoring a conference-best 74 points.

The difference? The Cowgirls didn’t rely on 3-pointers. And when they did, they made them.

The result was a 74-57 win that kept Wyoming atop the Mountain West standings and gave head coach Joe Legerski his ninth 20-win season in 15 seasons in Laramie.

“We kind of came back with a vengeance, because we knew that first game we didn’t play our best, and we knew should have beat them,” Wyoming junior Bailee Cotton said. “So, I think this game, we really showed what we can do.”

Cotton scored 19 points and recorded 12 rebounds, both of which matched career highs, and sophomore Taylor Rusk also matched a career high with 19 points, hitting five of seven 3s. Senior Liv Roberts chipped in 16 points.

The Cowgirls have lost just twice on the road to Mountain West teams this season, that Feb. 3 loss in Fresno, California, and at San Diego State to begin the conference slate. Both of those teams trailed by at least 20 upon facing the Cowgirls back in Laramie.

“It feels good, especially early, to get up, to get our confidence going,” Rusk said. “To lose at their place, it’s hard to play on the road, but we know when we’re here that we’ve got our fans on our side and the energy’s up. We’re a lot better team at home.”

The Cowgirls got off to a hot start Saturday, taking an 8-3 lead in the first 3 minutes of the game. After a 3:49 scoring drought, the Cowgirls built their lead to eight at the end of the first quarter and 13 early in the second.

But a change in defense seemed to unsettle the Cowgirls. The Bulldogs employed a trap-heavy zone defense that helped force five Wyoming second-quarter turnovers. Fresno State went on an 11-0 run and were a missed layup away from tying the game before Wyoming ended its 4:27 scoring drought.

“In the first half, we started on one offense and did OK, but then when they started trapping us, we were in the wrong offense,” Legerski said. “We were too spread out. So then we made our adjustments, and I really thought in the second half, with the change of the offense, we really attacked them, got the ball in the position that we needed to and, once again, made the right decision on the inside with Liv and Bailee.”

After taking a seven-point lead into halftime, the Cowgirls began the second half on a 13-0 run, establishing a 20-point lead that wouldn’t be topped all game.

Interior offense was a strength for the Cowgirls, who registered 28 points in the paint.

“Any zone kind of crumbles when you get it to the middle, and so that was our big thing at halftime,” Cotton said. “We knew we had to stay aggressive out of the press break, because we outnumbered them. So I think that was a real key.”

The Cowgirls weren’t as quick to shoot the long ball as they have been at times this year, but their shooters were effective when called upon.

“They can put a lot of pressure on you,” Legerski said of Fresno State. “And because we have the ability to shoot 3s, a lot of people don’t like playing zone against us or trapping us, because we’ll find open shooters. I thought for today, Taylor and Marta (Gomez), when you take a look at that, they go seven of 10 from 3. We were finding the right people today to shoot the ball.”

Those two players accounted for all of Wyoming’s made 3-pointers Saturday; the Cowgirls attempted 15 in total (46.7 percent). Overall, Wyoming shot 55.1 percent from the floor, hitting 10 more shots on six fewer attempts than the first meeting with the Bulldogs (30.9 percent). The Cowgirls also hit one more 3-pointer on 11 fewer attempts.

“The ball was going to go to Bailee and to Liv,” Legerski said. “We knew that, and they had to step up. When you take a look at Bailee was six of 11, so she shoots about 54 percent. Liv seven for 12, she’s in that number. They really delivered.”

UNLV defeated New Mexico on Saturday to remained tied with the Cowgirls atop the standings, but Wyoming (20-7 overall, 13-3 Mountain West) holds the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Lady Rebels. Wyoming’s 13 conference wins tie a program record, a mark the Cowgirls will have chances to beat at Air Force and against Boise State.

Follow University of Wyoming athletics reporter Brandon Foster on Twitter @BFoster91

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College Sports Reporter

Brandon Foster reports on University of Wyoming athletics. He joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 after graduating from the University of Missouri and covering Mizzou athletics for two years. A St. Louis native, he lives in Laramie.

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