LAS VEGAS, Nev. – The Cowgirls took the court at the Thomas & Mack Center with thousands of die-hard fans behind them all shouting “WYO!!” just minutes before their game with Colorado State. More than three hours later, those same fans dragged their feet out of the arena mumbling “oh, why?”
Friday’s semifinal matchup ended up being nothing short of spectacular, giving those in attendance their money’s worth with a thriller that saw 187 total points, 61 personal fouls and the first triple-overtime game in the history of the Mountain West Conference tournament (both men and women).
“Great college basketball game,” CSU head coach said with a smile as wide as the Grand Canyon in the postgame press conference. “I just think you saw two teams that didn’t want to lose.”
The stage had been set, and this one was for all the bragging rights.
Both squads were facing a Border War at the peak of its rivalry. Each had already claimed one of two regular-season matchups: the Cowgirls had slapped the Rams a 26-point loss in Laramie that ended their 10-game winning streak before CSU got its revenge two weeks later in Fort Collins.
But this was different. The two teams that play about as well together as cats and dogs were facing off on neutral hardwood, and the victor of the tiebreaker would be awarded a spot in the final round of tournament action.
According to Williams, the Border War knows no boundaries – which was clear from the moment Wyoming began chipping away at CSU’s 12-point halftime lead in the first few minutes coming back from the locker room. The Cowgirls remained persistent, tying the game just four seconds before the Rams would’ve sealed the win.
“Neither team gave in. It was possession by possession, big play by big play. Pretty soon you sit back as a coach and you just marvel that a player comes up with another play,” Wyoming head coach Joe Legerski said.
There was a tone of hurt in his voice, as he sat alongside Kayla Woodward, Chelan Landry and Kaitlyn Mileto; all of whom showed signs they had been crying and were doing their best not to break down in front of a mob of media members searching for answers.
No more than a few minutes later, the seats they were sitting in would be taken over by a coach and two players whose attitudes were on the complete opposite end of the spectrum.
The Cowgirls had more luck on their side than most who visit Sin City, but eventually something had to give and one of the two teams would end up on the wrong side of a “championship or bust” mentality.
That decisive came in the final moment of the last overtime.
Wyoming had found a way to climb back into contention in the three prior frames, tasked with doing it one more time if it hoped to survive. Down by three points, Landry launched a long ball from two steps past midcourt as the buzzer rang. It was all she court do in the four seconds she was given to work with, sending the ball up with a little bit of prayer behind it.
The arena went silent as every person locked eyes on the ball floating through the air. It struck the rim. The Rams had just won big – their reward being an appearance in the finals for the first time in 13 years.
“It was definitely a rollercoaster of emotions, but extremely happy,” CSU forward Sam Martin said. “We found a way to win. It was a hard-fought game by both teams. We’re going to the championship game – nothing gets better than that.”
Collegian Sports Editor Quentin Sickafoose can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @QSickafoose.