3 Quick takes: NCAA exposure, experience priceless for upstart Cowgirls
AUSTIN, Texas -- I think we all knew the Cowgirls would need to play a near perfect 40 minutes of basketball if they had any illusions of winning this one.
UCLA is the ninth-ranked team in the nation. It's making its fifth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. Of the Bruins five losses this season, two came against No. 2 Stanford. Another came at 11th-ranked Arizona.
That team is simply on a different level.
Does this loss hurt? Sure it does.
"I'm happy with what they've done," Wyoming's second-year head coach Gerald Mattinson said. "I'm happy with what they did tonight and I'm proud of them. When we were done, we were going to walk out of here with our heads held high because we gave everything we had. That's what we're going to do because that's what we did."
These words will ring awfully hollow at this very moment, but this setback means way more than another trip to a WNIT. Even if that potential run did include a few wins and some fans inside the Arena-Auditorium.
These Cowgirls played on ESPN tonight. Over and over you heard -- the nation heard -- about Wyoming's stunning four-game run through the Mountain West Tournament after a 24-day break, which included victories over the No. 2 seed, the four-time tournament champions and the highest scoring team in the league. We heard about their youth, their hustle, their never-say-die mentality.
We saw it, too.
We heard about the Cowgirls' loveable coach and the culture he's cultivated, not skipping a beat from the previous regime of the ever-popular Joe Legerski.
Arguably the most impactful narrative tonight is the fact an entire state was behind this group of young women. Whether this is the first time you have paid attention to the Cowgirls this year -- or maybe ever -- that team truly has a dedicated, die-hard fan base all of its own.
Westwood might have the glitz, glamor and national brand, but how many televisions in southern California were tuned into this one compared to right here in the Cowboy State?
We heard all the positives tonight.
Potential recruits heard it, too.
Yes, a lopsided loss in the NCAA Tournament means more than the alternative. Let's lay it out real simple:
* UW won a league tournament title
* These women will hang a banner in the A-A
* This will only help in recruiting
* It brings national exposure
UCLA 69, Wyoming 48
Matching the moment
Let's face facts: UCLA was the much bigger team and featured athleticism all over the court, despite being only seven deep.
At times, they were suffocating on the defensive end of the floor. Most times, they were making things look way too easy in the offensive paint. Former Ms. Colorado Basketball Michaela Onyenwere was dominant in all of those areas. She finished with a game-high 25 points. She also had seven rebounds, hit all six of her free throws and finished with two steals.
"There's nothing we can do to simulate that all year," Mattinson said of UCLA's size, adding that because of COVID-19 the Cowgirls were unable to utilize managers or "gray shirt player" in practice. "We haven't seen anything like that all year and we can't simulate that in practice.
"... You know, they're just jumping over you or sometimes it's their physical size. You can't move them. I thought we played hard, I thought we competed and that's what we want to do. We just can't match."
Onyenwere, along with her buddies, overwhelmed the Cowgirls for stretches.
Despite all the struggles UCLA caused Wyoming, the moment didn't appear too big for Alba Sanchez Ramos. The junior guard from Spain netted a team-best 15 points. She did it on the inside amongst the trees and the outside with some masterful footwork to get around speedy Bruin defenders. She also pulled down 10 boards to land a double-double.
"It was honestly pretty hard," Sanchez Ramos said potgame. "We needed a better pace. We couldn't get it. We needed to catch it closer to the rim. We couldn't do that ... They threw us off our emotion and we couldn't play our offense at all."
McKinley Bradshaw scored 13 off the bench for the Cowgirls, connecting on 2-of-3 shots from beyond the arc. The Lyman native also hit 50% of her shots from the field.
Quinn Weidemann finished with 11 points on an off-night for the Mountain West Tournament MVP. She hit just one of her six attempts from deep. She was 4-of-16 from the field.
Sanchez Ramos and Bradshaw scored 28 of the Cowgirls 48 points. They needed more help if they hoped to advance to the round of 32.
Fighting until the end
Would anyone have faulted Wyoming if it just rolled over in this one and let the final 10 minutes tick off the clock?
We know better than that.
Led by Tommi Olson and Dagny Davidsdottir, the Cowgirls battled to the final buzzer. The defense was solid in this one throughout. The Bruins were just that much bigger down low.
If it wasn't for a Lauryn Miller lay in with four seconds left in regulation, Wyoming would've actually won the fourth quarter, 7-6. I know, it's a small victory, but, it really is indicative of the fight in this young UW group.
“We responded well after a rough start,” Mattinson said. “We didn’t give in, give up and battled till the end and that is what you want from a basketball program. I hope we learned this season to battle through adversity and end out on top.”
UCLA missed its first five contested shots of the final frame. In fact, they made just three of 11 shots to end this one. Wyoming briefly cut this one to 15 with 2:38 to go.
Defense is this team's calling card. They showed that during the run in Las Vegas. They made every shot attempt a chore. UW held opponents to just 57.3 points per outing this season. That's good enough for 32nd in the nation in that category.
Another small win the Cowgirls can take away from this one is the foul trouble they caused the favorites. UCLA was called for 18 personal fouls. Onyewere, Miller and Emily Bessoir all finished with four.
Tonight, the odds weren't in Wyoming's favor. But, when you play defense the way Mattinson's crew does, that gave hope to fans across the 307 that an upset could be possible. If the Cowgirls shoot better than 33.3%, maybe it was. UCLA, of course, had plenty to do with that.
This entire UW roster has the option to come back in 2021-22. Believe this -- they learned from this one.
"This is huge for us," Sanchez Ramos said. "We are a very young team. Nobody expected us to get this far this year. I think if we can do this right now with this young team, let's see what's there for us in the future. I think it could be very bright."
UCLA advances to take on host-school Texas in the second round Wednesday. Wyoming returns to Laramie with confidence and a bright future ahead in a conference it now knows it can win.
"I hope they do," Mattinson said of his team learning from this one. "We always talk, 'I hope you take a little bit out of each game for the next game and then for the next year.' I hope they take a lot out of this season in the next year. You know, one of the things I hope they take out the whole season is you battled through adversity of many kinds and still come out on the on the top end."