Conference seeding on the line in Border War showdown
Feb. 25—CHEYENNE — The Border War between Colorado State and the University of Wyoming women's basketball team is one that always has drama and stakes.
But tonight's edition of the fabled rivalry has a lot more than bragging rights on the line. Seeding, and the ever-important first-round bye in the Mountain West tournament in March, will be on the line when the teams clash at the Arena-Auditorium at 7:30 p.m.
"It's the Border War, and it's our rival," first-year coach Heather Ezell said. "Every time we play this team, it is a close game, no matter what."
Getting one of the top-three seeds is paramount for teams still fighting for position in the conference.
Not only does doing so give a team a first-round bye into the quarterfinals, it also allows them to face a lower seed. More importantly, no team outside the top five has won the tournament, dating back to 2000, and only four teams outside the top three have.
"It is not easy to win four games in a row," Ezell said. "Being able to give yourself a bit of a cushion there and only have to (win) three, that just makes your life a little bit easier."
Standing in UW's way of grabbing this important seed is its biggest rival. CSU is also hunting for one of these top-three seeds, making this game a must-win for both teams. UW holds a 29-21 record over CSU at home.
The last two times these teams met in the regular season, the game came down to the wire. In last year's regular-season finale, the Cowgirls beat the Rams in overtime to claim the No. 3 seed in the Mountain West tournament. Quinn Weidemann knocked down four clutch free throws in the dying minutes of the overtime period to seal the win for UW.
Earlier this season, when the teams met again, it didn't go UW's way. Allyson Fertig tied the game 63-63 with 27 seconds remaining. But CSU's Caylin Crocker knocked down a 3-pointer with two seconds left to stun the Cowgirls. The loss also snapped UW's five-game road win streak.
Heading into this game, the Cowgirls are excited to have a chance to get back at CSU for the heartbreaking loss.
"We get everybody back in the stands, it is senior night, and it is our last conference home game," freshman guard Malene Pedersen said. "It is going to be a fun night."
In order to upend CSU and get themselves closer to the No. 2 seed, the Cowgirls know they need to do a handful of things to put themselves in the best position to win. According to Ezell, it starts with coming out with intensity and focus to start the game strong. It also entails the Cowgirls playing a full 40-minute game and not taking their foot off the gas.
The other big thing they must do is something very few teams have found a way to do this season: slow down McKenna Hofschild. Hofschild comes into the game leading the Mountain West in scoring, averaging 21.2 points per game.
The last time the teams faced off, she torched the Cowgirls with 25 points and nine assists while shooting a perfect 10-for-10 from the free-throw line.
"She is a smart player," Pedersen said. "She is just quick and makes good decisions. We just need to be ready to help (whoever is guarding her)."
Right now, the Cowgirls have an inside track at getting the No. 2 overall seed heading into the tournament. They have one game in hand on CSU, but have the exact same amount of losses as their rival does. With today being UW's season finale, a win would make it impossible for CSU to leapfrog them in the standings.
The other wildcard is San Diego State. If SDSU wins out, it would hold the same conference record as UW. However, due to tie-breaker rules, UW would hold the higher seed because of UW's series sweep against Boise State. .
Regardless of what happens with SDSU, the Cowgirls control their own destiny for seeding in the Mountain West. All they need to do is knock off CSU to do it.
Matt Atencio covers Laramie County prep sports for WyoSports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.