March 10, 2004
Denver, Colorado (March 10, 2004) -- For the first time in Mountain West Conference Tournament history, the Wyoming Cowgirl basketball team (11-17 overall, 6-8 in the MWC) earned a 67-61 victory over the Colorado State Rams (17-11 overall, 8-6 in the MWC) on Wednesday afternoon in Denver.
Each team traded basket in the very early going of the game with CSU taking a 5-3 lead which was answered over the next several minutes with a 9-3 scoring run to take a four-point advantage, 12-8. They would increase that margin to 20-8 by scoring eight unanswered and holding the Rams scoreless for over four minutes. Colorado State finally broke that scoreless streak with four straight points to bring them to within eight, but the Cowgirls came right back with two Kristen Lenhardt three-point field goals to regain a 14-point lead, 26-12. Momentum seemed to shift towards CSU in the final minutes of the half as another 9-0 scoring run, while Wyoming went several minutes without a basket. Despite all of their struggles, the Cowgirls would still take a 31-25 lead into halftime.
Wyoming was led in the half by junior Ashley Elliott, who finished with 12 points, while shooting 4-6 from beyond the arc. She was followed Kristen Lenhardt with nine and Sara Hippen and Michelle Lieber with four. Lieber also finished with a team high six rebounds. As a team, they were 11-23 (.478) from the field and 7-13 (.538) from beyond the arc.
Colorado State started off the second half with the hot hand by scoring the first five of six points to pull within three, 32-29. An Ashley Elliott basket stopped the run, but the Rams continued to shoot at will by going on a 12-0 to take their first lead of the half, 41-34, which was helped by a four minute scoring drought by the Cowgirls. UW kept their composure and answered with a 7-0 run of their own to tie it up at 41 all and then the battle was on. With about eight minutes to go, the Rams seemed to get the upper hand by running off eight straight points to go back up by the score of 51-43. It was the Cowgirls turn to respond, which was started by a Michelle Lieber layup, with a 16-1 scoring run to take the lead for good. The Rams could only manage to ten points in the final six minutes of the game, while Wyoming wrapped it up with free throws for their first Mountain West Conference tournament win by the final of 67-61.
"The effort we had today was a big step for our program," said head coach Joe Legerski. "In the past when we've gotten down in a game we start to shot the basketball and don't make what I call secondary plays. Tonight, we came up with some big rebounds to give us a second opportunity and I think that it allowed us to be able to get a couple extra shots at the basket and step up and make some free throws. To shot 83% from the free throw line you need to be able to shoot the basketball in order to win games of this caliber.
"I couldn't be happier for these players," he added. "First of all to lose seven seniors, have a coaching change, I had to get a junior and a senior to buy into what we were trying to do. There were times when we were trying to figure out if we were going to get somewhere, and all we talked about all year long was improving everyday and by the time we got to March that we were playing our best basketball. I give all the credit to Ashley Elliott and Brenda Pickup."
Three Cowgirls finished the night in double-figures, including junior guard Ashley Elliott. She led the way with a game high 29 points and seven rebounds, while shooting 9-20 (.450) from the field and 6-13 (.462) from beyond the arc. Junior forward Kristen Lenhardt ended the game with 18 points followed by freshman Michelle Lieber who recorded her fifth double double of the season with ten points and eleven rebounds. Wyoming finished the night 19-45 (.422) and 19-23 (.826) from the charity stripe, along with out rebounding the Rams 33-26.
All five starters finished in double-digits for the game led by Jasai Ferrucho with 13. She was followed by Vanessa Espinoza with 12, Lindsay Thomas and Melissa Dennett with 11 and Joy Jenkins with ten. Colorado State shot 21-52 (.404) from the field and 15-17 (.882) from the free throw line.
The Cowgirls will now move on and play the New Mexico Lobos in the second round of the tournament on Friday March 12 beginning at noon in the Pepsi Center.