LARAMIE -- Wyoming’s women’s basketball team came into Wednesday’s game against Fresno State streaking.
Using stifling defense and one of the best collective 3-point strokes in the nation, the Cowgirls had ripped off nine straight wins. Another one would’ve meant just the fourth double-digit winning streak in program history while keeping Wyoming close in its bid for a conference championship with three games left in the regular season.
Instead, Fresno State cooled off the hottest team in the Mountain West.
A barrage of late turnovers doomed Wyoming in a 66-64 loss to the Bulldogs at the Arena-Auditorium. It kept Wyoming from starting its first double-digit win streak since the 2007-08 season and, more pressing for the Cowgirls, dealt them a major blow in their quest for a MW title. Wyoming and New Mexico began the night just one game back of Boise State atop the league standings with just more than a week left in the regular season, but Boise State is now two games up on Wyoming following its overtime win over Colorado State on Wednesday.
Wyoming, which has already clinched a top-4 seed in next month’s MW tournament, will try to avoid its first losing streak of the season Saturday at Air Force.
“When Boise lost last week, we were like, ‘OK, we have a shot. They have to play New Mexico at the end of the year, and we have to play New Mexico (in the regular-season finale). This could really come down to it,’” Wyoming forward Bailee Cotton said. “I think it was maybe looking ahead a little bit and we lost a little bit of focus.”
Wyoming led the back-and-forth contest 57-55 with 1 minutes, 39 seconds left, but the Cowgirls turned it over on each of their next three possessions. Fresno turned all of them into points and took a two-possession lead after Maddi Utti’s steal and layup with 54 ticks left. Wyoming had a shot to tie it in the waning seconds, but Quinn Weidemann’s baseline runner fell short at the buzzer.
Marta Gomez paced the Cowgirls with 20 points while Cotton had 19 points and seven rebounds. But Wyoming, which came in averaging just more than 11 turnovers a game, coughed it up 16 times leading to 19 points for Fresno.
“I thought the one thing was in the last four minutes, we got a little timid,” Wyoming coach Joe Legerski said. “We didn’t stay as aggressive as we needed to, and that’s from freshmen to seniors. That’s important to always stay aggressive.”
The Bulldogs, who avenged a 63-56 loss in the teams’ first meeting back on Jan. 30, shot 88.2 percent (15 of 17) from the free-throw line and made its last five freebies to send Wyoming to its first loss since Jan. 19. It was part of an efficient offensive night that’s been rare for any of Wyoming’s opponents.
The Cowgirls, who lead the league in points allowed and field-goal percentage defense among several other defensive categories, had not allowed more than 60 points during their winning streak and held Colorado State to a season-low 32 points its last time out.
But Utti scored a game-high 26 points on 10-of-11 shooting while MW leading scorer Candice White added 18 for the Bulldogs, who shot 57 percent from the field and outscored Wyoming 36-10 in the paint. Wyoming, which owns the nation’s second-highest 3-point clip at 41.1 percent, also had an unusual off night from deep, connecting on just 28.6 percent (6 of 21) of its 3-pointers.
“I thought at times we played well defensively, but to let a team shoot 57 percent from the field -- give them credit for making the plays -- but we’ve got to take a look at we did not get accomplished tonight from a defensive standpoint,” Legerski said.