Wyoming Cowgirls beat Air Force by 20, rally falls short for men

(UW Athletics release)

LARAMIE, Wyo. – Five Cowgirls scored in double figures, and the team tied the sixth-best shooting percentage in school history as Wyoming (13-5, 6-3 MW) grounded the Falcons (8-14, 4-7) by a final score of 80-60. The Cowgirls improved to 27-0 against Air Force in games played in Laramie.

“The games are always interesting to me,” said head coach Joe Legerski, who was honored for his 300th career win prior to the game. “This was as difficult a victory, and when you look at the score, there was nothing easy about this win. I thought Air Force came out in the third quarter, and to their credit, really took the basketball at us. We started standing around playing side-to-side, and it just seemed like we really didn’t get a whole lot going offensively. The lead goes quickly from 17 to about 10, and I thought all the momentum was with them. We made a change to get a few more aggressive players in the game ourselves, and I thought Sladjana’s drive, basket and foul was a big play when we needed one.”

The Cowgirls had five reach double figure scoring, led by senior Bailee Cotton’s fifth double-double of the season with 19 points and a game-high 10 rebounds. Cotton was also a force on defense, recording two blocks and a steal. Senior Marta Gomez added 15 points and five boards, and fellow senior Sladjana Rakovic tied her career high with 13 points off the bench.

Junior Taylor Rusk scored 11 points and dished out six assists, while freshman Tereza Vitulova scored 10 points off the bench on a perfect 4-of-4 shooting to go along with five rebounds.

Freshman Karla Erjavec dished out a game- and career-high 10 assists, and she’s the first Cowgirl to reach double-digit assists since Clara Tapia had 10 against San Diego State on Feb. 1, 2017. Erjavec also added six points, four rebounds and steal to show off her all-around game.

“You take a look at her, and the fans showed how much they appreciate the way Karla plays,” Legerski said. “She got us going in transition, and she has great vision of where to take the basketball. For her to have 10 assists, I take that as a minimum of 20 points… and for her to score six, you look at that and she had basically a third of our points tonight she was the direct result of. I like the ball in her hands, she makes good decisions and she always wants to learn.”

The Cowgirls shot 62.5 percent (35-of-56) from the field to tie the sixth-best shooting performance in a game in school history. Wyoming also shot 42.9 percent (3-of-7) from three and 63.6 percent (7-of-11) from the free throw line. The Cowgirls ended the game with a season-high 27 assists – the sixth time this season they had at least 20 assists – and 15 turnovers.

The Cowgirls had a season-high 50 points in the paint, and the bench outscored AF’s reserves, 25-8. This game also marked the first time in four games the Cowgirls have trailed, but the Falcons only led for 2:08 during the contest.

Air Force was led by Briana Autrey, who had a game-high 21 points and added three assists. Kaelin Immel joined her in double-figure scoring with 12 points. Emily Conroe added nine points, including Air Force’s only three-point field goal on the night.

The Falcons shot 42.6 percent (26-of-61) from the field, 50.0 percent (1-of-2) from three and 63.6 percent (7-of-11) from the free throw line. The Academy had six assists and 11 turnovers on the night.

Cotton opened the game’s scoring with a spinning layup in the post that the Falcons answered. In fact, there wasn’t a missed field goal in the game until Cotton barely missed a layup at the 7:03 mark, and Air Force had an early 8-7 lead. But the Cowgirls turned it on after the media timeout, and Wyoming ended the quarter on a 15-2 run, highlighted by a pair of dazzling fastbreak assists by Erjavec – two of six assists she had in the quarter. The Cowgirls led 26-14 after the opening frame.

Tapia attacked the rim to start the scoring in the second quarter, extending the Cowgirl lead to 28-14. After a pair of Falcon free throws, the Cowgirls rattled off an 8-0 run, capped by a Rakovic three-ball, to force an Air Force timeout with Wyoming leading, 36-16, at the 8:31 mark. Then, the Falcons slightly outscored Wyoming, 13-10, to end the half, and the Cowgirls took a 46-29 lead into the locker room at the break.

Air Force started the second half with the ball, and scored a layup to start a 6-0 run that was halted by a pair of Cotton free throws to keep Wyoming up, 48-35, at the 6:00 mark. Rakovic hit an elbow jumper at the 2:52 mark to put Wyoming up 54-40, and Vitulova scored on the next possession after a defensive stop. The teams traded points to end the quarter, and the Cowgirls led, 60-46, after three periods.

Erjavec buried a baseline jumper to start the fourth quarter. Gomez later ended a 2:30 scoring drought with a baseline jumper from the other side of the basket, to put Wyoming up 66-50. Out of the media timeout, Erjavec found Gomez for a layup – Erjavec’s 10th assist on the night – and Erjavec scored a fastbreak layup after a defensive stop to force a Falcon timeout at the 3:53 mark with The Cowgirls leading, 74-52. The teams traded baskets, and Vitulova scored the final four points for the Cowgirls down the stretch as Wyoming walked away with the 80-60 win.

The Cowgirls return to the hardwood for the first edition of this season’s Border War, when they travel to Fort Collins to face Colorado State on Saturday, Feb. 9. Tip-off from Moby Arena is scheduled for 2 p.m. (MT).

Wyoming’s men sank a season-high 15 three pointers with nine in the second half, but hot shooting in the first half was just enough for the Air Force Falcons to hold on for a 81-76 win inside Clune Arena in Colorado Springs, Colo. The Falcons shot 67 percent in the first half for the highest percentage since San Diego State shot 68 percent on Feb. 19, 2013.

“Some of the things I hit the team with is just growth,” UW head coach Allen Edwards. “We are still having to address things we need to get better at. Sometimes it is collective or like a spirit jumping from one player to the next. We have to continue to coach and mentor these guys.”

The Pokes were led in scoring by Senior guard Justin James with 22 points. It marked the 82nd double-figures scoring game of his career and the 41st 20-plus point game in his four seasons. James also added eight rebound and nine assists nearing a rare triple double.

Junior Jake Hendricks added 21 points in his return to the lineup. He hit a career-tying seven three pointers in his return. Freshman Trace Young added 15 points for his fourth game in double-figures this season. Freshman Haize Fornstrom added six points, a career-high as he hit two three-pointers late.

“I commended Jake on his play after the game,” Edwards said. “He was flying around and he really understands how to play the game.”

The Pokes shot 46 percent from the field and 41 percent from behind the arc. Wyoming also added 14 assists tying a season-high. The Falcons would hold the advantage on the glass 35-25.

The Falcons finished the night shooting 53 percent from the field for a season-high for a UW opponent. Air Force’s LaVelle Scottie scored 34 points for the second most by an opposing player this season after Boston College’s Ky Bowman with 38 in November.

Ryan Swan and Scottie combined for the first nine points of the game for the Falcons, as Air force raced out to a 9-2 lead a little over two minutes into the game.

Scottie continued to his hot play going 7-of-7 (later 11-of-11) to open the game, but three free throws from James and a triple from Hendricks, his first shot back from injury would help make it a 19-15 contest with 11:26 to play. Air Force would continue the momentum shooting 67 percent from the field through the 7:24 mark of the frame for a 26-21 advantage.

The story remained the same, as the Falcons shot 67 percent in the opening frame going 20-of-30 building a lead as large as 16 points. The Pokes closed out the half strong with three triples in the final two minutes including a buzzer beater by Hendricks to make it a 44-35 Air Force at half.

Shots continued to fall early for Air Force in the second half, as the Falcons built the lead back to as high as 15 points two minutes in to the half making it a 50-35 game. Wyoming responded on a 6-1 run with triples from James and Hendricks for a 51-41 game with 16 minutes left.

The Falcons would maintain the double-digit advantage until a fade away three-pointer from Young made it a 56-48 contest with just under 12 minutes remaining. James would cut it to five points a minute later at 56-51 with three freebies.

An 11-0 run by the Falcons would push the advantage back to double digits at 67-51 with under eight minutes to play. Wyoming would make three-straight field goals to make it a 69-60 game with 4:09 left.

Wyoming would then begin to rack up the three pointers, as the Pokes hit five in a row with three from Hendricks and two from freshman Haize Fornstrom with the Pokes making it a three point game at 78-75 with 39 seconds left. But the Falcons made free throws late on their way to the win.

Swan added 19 points going 7-of-13 from the field and added a team-high eight rebounds.

The Cowboys return to action on Saturday at High Noon for the first “Border War” contest of the season against Colorado State.

Scott Breen

Scott Breen

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