Mar. 6—CHEYENNE — Normally, having a first-round bye in tournament action is looked at as a positive thing.
In the case of the University of Wyoming women's basketball team this season, however, playing a first-round game in the Mountain West conference tournament is somewhat of a blessing in disguise.
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"We need that first-round game," Cowgirls coach Gerald Mattinson said. "Having not played for so long, you definitely don't need to show up and take on teams who were playing until the end of the season."
The last time the Cowgirls took the court against another team was on Feb. 13, where they beat Utah State 79-42. At the time, they were unaware that Utah State would be their next opponent 22 days later.
With the seventh seed in the tournament, the Cowgirls will play the No. 10-seeded Aggies on Sunday in the first round in Las Vegas. Wyoming swept Utah State in their final two regular-season contests, winning the games by a combined 49 points.
Even with the Cowgirls cruising past the Aggies in their regular-season matchups, they can't be overlooked.
"In the tournament, it's a fresh season for everybody," senior Jaye Johnson said. "We can't look at it as we already beat them twice, we need to look at it as we need to come out and play hard ... we just need to focus on ourselves and what we do best."
Johnson was one of three seniors that didn't get the opportunity to experience a Senior Night as a member of the program. Emily Buchanan and Dagny Davidsdottir are the other two. UW was supposed to hold its Senior Night on Feb. 24 against Colorado State University-Pueblo. The game was canceled that morning because of COVID-19 issues within the ThunderWolves' program.
On top of the already canceled series against New Mexico, the news of another cancellation, especially on Senior Night, was a tough one to let soak in.
"It was pretty frustrating," Johnson said. "We were excited we were going to play another game, and then five hours before (the game), they tell us. It was pretty emotional."
Added Mattinson about telling the team about the cancellation, "It was like you think you're getting a new car for your 16th birthday, and you get a bike. That's what that look was like from them."
Wyoming (10-9 overall, 8-8 Mountain West) was playing well before its season came to an unforeseen halt. It had won four of its previous six games and was starting to find some sort of offensive rhythm, something that the Cowgirls struggled to find for most of the season.
Those two losses came at the hands of CSU on the road in Fort Collins. UW battled with the then-league-leading Rams and took both games to the wire.
"All year, we talked about finding who we were and where we're at," Mattinson said. "Our last six games, I thought we played really well ... we were starting to score points and feel comfortable, and we had a nice rotation coming off the bench."
It's tough to say how the hiatus will factor into the Cowgirls' performance on the court during the tournament, especially in terms of conditioning. All of that aside, Mattinson knows his team will be prepared to play, as it always is.
"I've had a lot of people ask me — I mean a lot of people ask — 'What are you guys going to be like?', and I don't know," Mattinson said. "What I do know is that we're going to play extremely hard; they've done that all year. I can't fault our kids at all. I think every game, they've given everything they've had."
Robert Munoz is a writer for WyoSports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @rmunoz307.