Wyoming fans in Las Vegas can feel free to head home a bit earlier than they might have planned.
Their basketball teams sure didn't give them any reason to stick around.
Less than 12 hours after Mountain West bottom-dweller Colorado State upset the Cowboys in the play-in game of the conference tournament, Wyoming's other hardwood squad failed to hold up under the pressure of a one-and-done situation.
Jene Morris scored 21 points, including 18 in the second half, to help lead San Diego State to a 66-54 victory over the Cowgirls in the tournament's quarterfinals Wednesday night, making Wyoming the league's first school to be eliminated from the tourney in both men's and women's competition.
"I can't tell you how much (this win) means to us as a program because of the respect I have for (Wyoming head coach) Joe Legerski and his team," SDSU head coach Beth Burns said in the postgame press conference.
The Cowgirls, who fell to 24-6 overall with the loss, will now have to hope their body of regular season work is enough to earn them a trip to the NCAA tournament. Their potential at-large bid was complicated earlier in the day by Colorado State's shocking 60-52 win over Utah, the nation's 12th-ranked team and the MWC tourney's No. 1 seed. The league's automatic bid will now go to one of the four teams remaining in the tournament—New Mexico, TCU, CSU or SDSU—which means the conference will likely have to send at least three teams to the Big Show for Wyoming to earn a spot.
That didn't stop Legerski from making his case to reporters after the game.
"You know, before tonight we're 24-5," he said. "Our RPI's in the top 30. I think we played a schedule deserving.
"I'd stack San Diego State up against a lot of teams. I think they're very good. And hopefully we've done enough throughout the whole year. And they talk about your body of work, and I think we have the body of work. We'll be waiting on Monday to see what happens."
After dropping both regular season meetings to the Cowgirls, the Aztecs never trailed Wednesday night. Morris' pressure defense on Wyoming's guards helped SDSU build a 13-3 lead early in the game.
"I thought we set the tone defensively," Burns said. "Their offense is so good and they run such a rhythm offense that we really wanted to use our speed and stretch the floor and get ourselves in passing lanes."
The Cowgirls clawed their back to a five-point deficit, 20-15, with 5:36 left in the first period, but SDSU scored seven of the period's final 11 points to take a 27-19 advantage into the break.
"Our guards played excellent defense today," Morris said. "(The Cowgirls) had open looks, but our pressure prevented them from getting those open looks.
"We came out ready to play, hungry, and we started off the game great."
Wyoming would never get closer than seven points down the rest of the way. Morris scored seven points during a six-minute stretch of the second half to help SDSU build a 45-31 lead, and she hit a 3-pointer to extend the advantage to 15 points with just less than five minutes to play. The Cowgirls pulled within 57-50 with less than two minutes to play and had a chance to cut the lead to five points when Morris stole the ball and scored a breakaway layup while being fouled. Her free throw pushed the lead back to 10 points and sealed the win for the Aztecs.
Morris finished the game with four steals and six rebounds. Paris Johnson added 17 points, and Allison Duffy had 16 points and 10 rebounds for SDSU (17-12).
"I told the bigs before the game that they had to be big," Burns said. "Duffy and Paris had to play for us to be successful because they can, and they did."
Megan McGuffey led the Cowgirls with 22 points and 10 rebounds, and Justyna Podziemska added 11 points and three blocks. Hanna Zavecz had 10 points, 11 rebounds and four steals for Wyoming, but she finished just 3-of-15 from the field.
As a team, the Cowgirls shot a dismal 20 percent from 3-point range while SDSU finished 5-of-11 (45 percent) from beyond the arc. The Aztecs also out-rebounded Wyoming 42-34.
"I think it was just one of those nights," McGuffey said. "I think, you know, we're kind of a team that lives off the three-pointer at times. So, you know, nights when they're not falling, it's going be a rough one. And we missed a lot of close layups too, which against a team that comes out and plays that well and pressures you that much, you just can't afford to miss those shots."
The Cowgirls will now wait until Selection Monday to find out where they'll be playing in the postseason.
"We're relying on the fact that our early season record speaks for itself," UW assistant coach Gerald Mattinson said. "We've beaten Iowa, which was a co-champ of the Big 10; beat Kansas State, which was co-champ of the Big 12. We got some quality wins, so what we can't have happen right now is have any more upsets in conference that would take our at-large bid. We have to really hope for TCU to win the championship, because if some other MWC team gets in, it's going to make it difficult for an at-large bid for other teams."
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