Cut Down the Nets – Cowgirls Make Conference History
LAS VEGAS -- Gerald Mattinson sat back in his padded folding chair with both hands resting on top of his head.
Clinging to a three-point lead, there were 3.1 ticks remaining on the clock and Mountain West Player of the Year, Haley Cavinder, was cocked and loaded beyond the arc at the opposite end of the floor.
She had a decent look. The ball left her right hand.
It didn't make it far.
Alba Sanchez Ramos swatted the ball out of the air and the buzzer sounded. The junior from Spain snagged the ball and hammered it onto the court one last time before jumping into the arms of her swarming teammates.
The final score read: Wyoming 59, Fresno State 56
With that victory, Wyoming clinched a berth in the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in program history.
The Cowgirls won the league tourney for the first time ever.
They are also the only team in conference history to win four games in a row in Vegas.
The ladies from Laramie became the lowest seed -- on the men's or women's side -- to cut down the nets inside the Thomas and Mack Center.
Mattinson pumped his right fist once. Then again. Then came both. The Cowgirls' second-year head coach stood by the sideline watching the celebration. It didn't take long for him to join in.
"I love you guys so much," an emotional Mattinson shouted as he hugged a group of players.
How did the Cowgirls get it done tonight?
Quinn Weidemann, the tournament MVP, netted a team-high 14 points. Lyman's McKinley Bradshaw added 13 and Grace Ellis scored nine, including a pair of free throws to extend UW's late lead.
Once again, the No. 7 seed locked it down on defense, holding the Bulldogs to their lowest point total all season. Wyoming held FSU to just 37% shooting from the field. They made just 4-of-15 threes. The Cowgirls, led by Bradshaw and Sanchez Ramos, also aided in giving UW a 42-32 edge on the boards.
For more than 10 minutes, the Bulldogs didn't sink a single bucket. During that span Wyoming used an 18-0 run to take a 10-point lead early in the third quarter.
It was that dominant.
"It's a dream come true," Bradshaw said. "Ever since I was little, that's what I wanted to do. To do it with this team is even more special because it's the first time. It's the first time school has ever done it. That's pretty special."
The real story, however, is how the Cowgirls got here in the first place.
New Mexico was forced to cancel a late regular-season series because of COVID-19 concerns. San Jose State folded up shop early in the season because of the virus. Even a late addition to the schedule, a home contest with CSU-Pueblo, was axed at the last-minute because of the pandemic.
For 24 days Mattinson's Cowgirls didn't play a game.
Surely a 10-9 team with nearly a month of rest couldn't make a run through this gauntlet of a tournament, right?
"I think it got us really excited to start playing games again," Weidemann said of the unexpected layoff. "I think we came out against Utah State and had a great first game that got us rolling... We used those 24 days to get better and it's paid off."
Wyoming dismantled the Aggies, 69-41, in the opening round Sunday night. Then came a meeting with the No. 2 seed and hometown UNLV Rebels. A program-and-tournament-record 15 triples later, and the Cowgirls were in the semifinals against a team that has been nothing short of a nightmare over the past four seasons, Boise State.
The Broncos had won 13 straight on this court. That equates to four straight league titles. In 2019, Boise State even knocked off the Cowgirls in the championship game.
That all came to a screeching halt Tuesday night.
Dagny Davidsdottir finished with 15 points and Weidemann chipped in with 10 as Wyoming held the high-powered Broncos to just 28% shooting in the 53-38 win.
Purple and silver streamers fell from the ceiling inside the Las Vegas arena tonight. The team, clad in new gold championship t-shirts and white hats, hoisted the league's trophy high above their heads with no one in attendance.
It's times like this one misses the thousands of Wyoming fans that would've surely been in attendance Wednesday night. The Cowgirls could've also used a little encouragement as they watched a double-digit lead dwindle to two points late in regulation.
It's the sad reality of the current situation. The Mountain West even handed out championship facemasks.
That did little to dampen the party though.
The Cowgirls danced, hugged and cried before one by one climbing the ladder to snip of a piece of history from the orange cylinder.
Up next: The Big Dance.
"We are the underdog," Ellis said. "We need to come out with nothing to lose and keep rolling."
Weidemann can't even think that far ahead yet.
"It's surreal. I can't even put it into words right now," the junior from Omaha said. "Our staff and the entire team has been talking about this since the beginning of the year. to actually come here and do it is amazing."
Mattinson was the last one to make that climb up the rungs as his team looked on. He ripped away the twine and held it up for all to see as the cheers rang out.
"Thank you all for all the years you given us," Mattinson said to the fans. "Keep cheering us on. We're going to go do the best we can. We just love all you guys."
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