Some lucky Wyoming folks managed to sneak out of the Cowboy State from March 10-16 and head to Las Vegas to attend the annual Mountain West Basketball Championships. By doing so, they managed to avoid the biggest blizzard of the winter, which left most of the state buried and paralyzed.
It is always fun watching the University of Wyoming basketball teams — men’s and women’s. We got to watch both teams play on Wednesday, March 13.
Getting away from Wyoming’s blizzards was a good break, but Las Vegas showed off rain and 50-mph winds, which did not make it that pleasant. But more importantly, there was nary a snowdrift in sight.
The scores of those games were also not so hot, but the efforts were exciting and the games were fun.
On that day, we saw our 10th-seeded men’s team play its opening game against New Mexico. Later that evening, the third-seeded Cowgirls (who had already won two tournament games) played in the championship against the highly regarded Boise State team. The Lady Broncos had won this tourney the past two years.
New Mexico prevailed in the men’s game 68-58, despite 31 points by Wyoming all-star Justin James. The Cowboys finished the season with an 8-24 record.
Boise State led the entire game and defeated the Cowgirls 68-51 with a balanced attack. The Cowgirls finished the season with a 22-8 record. Earlier in the tournament the Cowgirls had beaten Utah State 64-41 and San Diego State 75-70 (in overtime).
University of Wyoming sports have a huge effect on the people of our state. Our teams truly knit together folks from far-flung communities across the vast 98,000 square miles of Wyoming.
We saw lots of Wyoming folks who had journeyed to Sin City.
Mike and Jennifer Martin of Rock Springs had scooted out of Sweetwater County before the big blizzard hit. Mike said he had heard reports from back home that Interstate 80 was closed from border to border. They were pleased to be in Las Vegas.
But that first and only game by the Wyoming Cowboys left Mike disappointed. “Who were those guys out there in the second half?” he asked. Wyoming led New Mexico by 14 points in the first half but ended up collapsing in the second half and lost by 10 points. The game was a story of two halves.
Stuart and Kathy Nelson of Wheatland love following the UW teams. They showed me photos of the blizzard back home emailed to them by members of their family. It looked like a total whiteout in Platte County.
Mark Anderson of Burns, who owns some fifteen Burns Insurance offices all over Wyoming, was dismayed by the play of the men’s team in their opener. He follows the team all over the country and thinks guard Justin James could be an NBA player. But this game? “That second half was painful to watch,” he sighed.
Kirby Walker and his wife of Green River were happy to be in Las Vegas, but did not look too happy about having their seats in the middle of a whole bunch of New Mexico fans. To their credit, those Lobo fans were very nice. We ended up in that area, too, but moved over to some empty seats where we were surrounded by gold sweatshirts and hoodies.
We also ran into Keener Fry, who does a great job of running the UW Alumni Association. He works hard and is a great ambassador for the Cowboys.
The men played in the early afternoon and the women played in the evening game.
The Cowgirls playing in the finals was a first. It was the first trip ever to the Mountain West finals for coach Joe Legerski, which was a great personal milestone for him.
UW does a magnificent job of recruiting foreign players and nine of the 15-team members are from Europe.
The five starters are from foreign countries: Spain, Croatia, and Colorado. Just kidding about Colorado.
UW wasn’t the only women’s team with foreign players. Utah State had five players from Australia and one from Greece. Fresno State had four foreign players.
The crowd for the women’s championship had a good solid representation of gold in the grandstands. The Thomas and Mack Center is a wonderful venue that even features spouting flames at each end of the court at the start of the games.
It’s always fun to go to Vegas. Watching the Cowboys and Cowgirls play hard at basketball is just about as good as it gets.
Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books. His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find them at www.wyomingwonders.com.