March 28, 2007
LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) -
The biggest crowd in Wyoming women's basketball history showed up to see the best game in Wyoming women's basketball history.
A banked-in 3-pointer to force overtime. A driving layup to force a second overtime. A free throw to force a third.
And then, the Cowgirls took over. Hanna Zavecz scored five of her 28 points in the third and final overtime as Wyoming beat Kansas State 89-78 on Wednesday night in the semifinals of the WNIT.
"I've never been involved in [a game] of this magnitude, this many people, the game going back and forth," said Wyoming coach Joe Legerski.
To top it all off, it was sweet revenge -- served cold -- against a team that had given the Cowgirls a heart-breaking overtime loss earlier in the season.
"It was awesome," Cowgirls guard Jodi Bolerjack said.
Wyoming advances to play at home against Wisconsin in Saturday's WNIT title game. The Badgers beat Western Kentucky 79-72 Wednesday night.
That's one more game for the most successful Cowgirls team in school history. No Wyoming team has won as many games -- the previous record was set by the 1978-79 team, which finished 25-7 -- and no Wyoming team has advanced as far in postseason play.
Kansas State (19-15), meanwhile, was denied its second-consecutive trip to the WNIT title game. Last year, the Wildcats beat Marquette 77-65 in front of a home crowd of 13,340 -- the second-largest crowd in WNIT history.
This time, a crowd almost as big -- 12,225, the biggest ever for a Cowgirls game -- was on Wyoming's side.
The Cowgirls (26-9) never trailed in the third overtime. Zavecz opened the third overtime with a hard-charging layup, and got three more points from the free-throw line.
"I had a big on me," Zavecz said. "Team rule -- if a guard has a big, you drive."
It worked for Wyoming all night. The Cowgirls usually rely on 3-point shooting, averaging more than seven 3s per game. But K-State extended its defense, leaving few open perimeter looks.
"Defensively, they were playing very well to take away 3-point shots," Legerski said. "We talked during time-outs that we needed to attack the basket."
That strategy helped the Cowgirls get to the free-throw line 52 times -- with 37 made free throws.
Still, Wyoming needed repeated comebacks to earn the win.
Kansas State led by 6 going into the game's final minute, but Bolerjack converted a three-point play with 48.3 seconds left. Then Dominique Sisk's got an offensive rebound and kicked it out to Justyna Podziemska, who banked in a 3-pointer with 6.7 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 59.
"I never felt like they were out of ammo, so to speak, on the offensive end," K-State coach Deb Patterson said. "Offensively, that 3 off the glass to tie the game in regulation -- it was just one of those, you have to take the shot and hope to make it. It was a gutsy play."
The first two overtimes were back-and-forth affairs -- and both required late game-saving shots by Wyoming.
The Wildcats hit 3-pointers on its first three possessions in the first overtime, two from Kimberly Dietz and one from Shalee Lehning that made it 68-65 with 2:03 left. Dietz and Lehning scored all 12 of K-State's points in the first overtime.
But Sisk hit a layup with 8.1 seconds left to tie the score at 71 and force a second overtime. "She knew we needed a basket," Bolerjack said. Then Bolerjack hit a free throw with 13.2 seconds left in the second overtime to tie the game at 78, and Wyoming dominated the final overtime.
"Those teams competed their hearts out," K-State coach Patterson said. "And Wyoming just, down the stretch, made the bigger plays that ultimately separated them from us."
The game's biggest shots might have been two free throws that never should have been taken. Sisk fouled Shalee Lehning with 1 minute left in regulation; it was Wyoming's sixth foul of the second half, but the scorer's table erroneously said K-State was in the bonus. Lehning hit both ends of the 1-and-1 to give the Wildcats a 59-53 lead going into the final minute.
Ashley Sweat scored a career-high 31 points for the Wildcats, and Lehning had a triple-double -- 15 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists.
"She's an amazing athlete, player," Zavecz said of Sweat. "She beat me, and I couldn't defend her."
But Zavecz's defensive line still wasn't too shabby: six blocked shots, four steals, and seven of her 10 rebounds were on the defensive end. She also led Wyoming with four assists.
Wyoming went on an 11-0 run early in the first half, fueled mostly by free throws; Megan McGuffey's two free throws made it 13-7 with 12:36 left.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats went almost 7 minutes without a field goal until Kimberly Dietz's fast-break layup with 11:28 left. K-State would retake the lead after an 8-0 run, two baskets each from Sweat and Shana Wheeler. Wheeler's second basket made it 21-19, and Sweat scored again -- she had 13 points in the first half -- to put K-State up 23-21 with 3:29 left in the half.
But Bolerjack hit a 3-pointer from the left wing with 1:06 left -- the first 3-pointer of the game for a team averaging more than seven 3-pointers per game -- to give Wyoming the lead. Zavecz hit a pair of free throws with 14.3 seconds left to give the Cowgirls a 26-23 halftime lead.
Podziemska scored 18 points before fouling out. Sisk and McGuffey each scored 14, and Bolerjack had 13.
The game was a rematch of an overtime thriller played Nov. 17 at Manhattan, Kan. Claire Coggins hit a half-court shot at the buzzer for K-State to send the game into overtime; the Wildcats went on to win 68-62.