LARAMIE – The University of Wyoming Cowgirls celebrated coach Joe Legerski’s 300th win prior to hosting Air Force on Wednesday at the Arena-Auditorium.
Win No. 302 may have looked easy on the scoreboard, but it was anything but.
The Cowgirls jumped on the Falcons early, using a 14-0 run for a 26-12 lead, then kept Air Force at arm’s length for the rest of the game in an 80-60 win before a crowd of 2,460.
The Cowgirls (13-5 overall, 6-3 Mountain West) won for the fourth-straight time and for the 27th-consecutive time against the Falcons (8-14, 4-7 MW) at home.
“There was nothing easy about this win,” Legerski said. “We made a change to get a few more aggressive players in the game. We had a difficult time defending their quickness. They shoot 43 percent and we needed to shoot 63 percent to get a win.”
The Cowgirls were 35 of 56 from the field (62.5 percent), the sixth-highest shooting percentage in program history.
UW’s game plan was to go inside on the smaller Falcons and it worked.
In her 100th career game, Cowgirls senior Bailee Cotton led the team with 19 points and added 10 rebounds for her fifth double-double this season and the 10th of her career.
UW freshman post Tereza Vitulova came off the bench to score 10 points in a perfect night of 4 of 4 from the field and 2 of 2 on free throws. The 10 points she scored were the most since scoring 15 against Montana State on Nov. 27.
UW senior Marta Gomez added 15 points on 7 of 8 shooting, with only one of those shots a 3-pointer. Fellow senior forward Sladjana Rakovic tied a career high with 13 points and junior Taylor Rusk chipped in 11 to go with six assists.
UW outscored Air Force 56-32 in points in the paint.
“We came in knowing they were a little undersized and we had to change up our cuts in the middle,” Cotton said. “They play an interesting post defense where they face you, so it’s kind of hard to get the lob going. We were able to move the ball around enough to find our open people.”
As a team, the Cowgirls assisted on 27 of 35 baskets.
UW freshman Karla Erjavec was the main distributor with a career high 10 assists to go with six points and four rebounds.
“We know what (Erjavec) can do because we see her every day in practice,” Gomez said. “We’re surprised she didn’t get more than 10 assists. I was sure she was going to get a double-double. It’s crazy how much she can see the play and who’s open.”
Air Force tried to stay in the game by also attacking the basket.
Five-foot-5 freshman point guard Briana Autrey led all scorers with 21 points with most of her points in the paint. Sophomore guard Kaelin Immel added 12 points.
The Cowgirls turned the ball over 15 times against Air Force’s aggressive man-to-man defense, but for the most part UW was able to handle Air Force’s physical style of play.
“We really did a good job of holding our composure against their pressure and when things didn’t go our way,” Cotton said. “We were able to finish those tough shots and I think it showed how much we’ve grown.”
UW’s biggest lead of the first half came on a 3-pointer by Rakovic with 8:31 to go in the second quarter for a 36-16 cushion.
The Cowgirls led 46-29 at the half, but the Falcons scored 10 of the first 12 points in the third quarter to slice the lead to 48-38. UW responded with an 8-2 run to push the margin to 16 and Air Force never got closer than 12 the rest of the way.
UW will next play at Colorado State at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
Scott Nulph is the WyoSports assistant editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or 307-755-3324. Follow him on Twitter at @ScottNulph.