LARAMIE – Just as it has been for most of the season, the defense for the University of Wyoming women's basketball team was smothering on Saturday afternoon.
The Cowgirls held San Jose State to a season-low point total during an 80-45 victory at Arena-Auditorium. Prior to Saturday's game, the Spartans were tied with New Mexico as the highest-scoring team in the Mountain West at 77.6 points per game.
"First of all, I've got to give credit to my staff," UW coach Gerald Mattinson said. "They did a really nice job looking at a bunch of film and gave us the chance to look at some things we wanted to try. ... Our defense (Saturday) was outstanding, and was as good as it has probably been for 40 minutes the entire year."
UW trailed for the first three minutes, 15 seconds of the game until Taylor Rusk buried a 3-pointer for a 3-2 lead. They never trailed again.
Jaeden Vaifanua had three-consecutive buckets to close out the opening period and the Cowgirls held a 13-9 lead going into the second quarter.
It was at that point where Tommi Olson and the Cowgirls took control of the game. Olson had three rebounds, four assists and three steals in the second period, which sparked the Cowgirls on both ends of the court. She was applying constant pressure to the Spartans' guards, which created a ton of frustration and made it difficult for the visiting team to find any sort of rhythm.
"We just wanted to stop their transition," Olson said. "The posts were getting back and the guards were taking a stand at the 3-point line and that really helped us as far as slowing them down and getting them out of their game."
UW (11-9 overall, 6-4 MW) outscored SJSU 23-12 during the second period, and held the Spartans to 21 points in the first half – the second-lowest first-half total for a UW opponent this season.
Along with the stalwart defense, the Cowgirls' offense was moving the ball well and dissecting the Spartans' 3-2 zone defense, so much the Spartans had to resort to playing man-to-man defense at times.
"We knew that it'd be open in the middle (of the zone)," Vaifanua said. "We just needed to be aggressive and pound that. Our team also does a really good job of that when something is working, to keep going to it."
Vaifanua posted a game-high and career-high 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting. She also grabbed five rebounds. Quinn Weidemann notched 14 points and five assists while Selale Kepenc added 12 points and six rebounds for the Cowgirls.
Olson finished the game with 12 rebounds (three offensive), six assists, and seven steals – all of which were game highs. The rebounds and steals were career highs. The 5-foot-6 guard also finished the game with zero turnovers. It was her second career start as Karla Erjavec remains sidelined with an illness.
"(Olson has) taken advantage of the situation and she is playing well," Mattinson said. "What we've had to do is we've freed the ball up a little bit and we're going to take advantage of what she brings."
UW is currently on a three-game winning streak and, although the season has been a roller-coaster, there's no denying that the Cowgirls haven't bought in.
"I've said this from day one, we play hard," Mattinson said. "We're going to go into a hostile environment (in Boise on Wednesday) that we traditionally don't play well at and we're going to have our hands full, but I believe we're going to play hard.
"I don't know if we're going to win but if we'll keep playing hard, good things will happen."
Robert Munoz is an intern for WyoSports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.