SAN DIEGO -- The first five minutes of this one were crucial.

Jeff Linder mentioned that during his weekly press conference. He reiterated it again during his pregame interview with the Wyoming radio crew.

Saying it is one thing.

Stopping it, well, that's another thing entirely.

San Diego State raced out to a 19-7 lead, which included a lighting-fast 12-0 run, in those first 300 seconds inside Viejas Arena, a place the Cowboys have now dropped 13 straight after an 87-57 blowout loss to the Aztecs in the opening tilt of a two-game series.

The Aztecs made 8-of-11 shots during that timeframe. They also hit three triples in four attempts.

The rout was on.

"Well, there's no question. I've been there, done that," Linder said of SDSU coming out of the gate fast. "I've played here. I've seen it. We started out, I mean, we made that first shot and we actually had some good looks there in that first five minutes. I mean, some some wide-open looks. You know, a team like us, when you're going to shoot three's, the percentages say you're going to probably miss more than you're going to make."

Aint that the truth.

After Xavier DuSell sank the Cowboys' first triple of the night, the visitors went cold, missing 15 of their next 18 attempts from deep in the first half.

SDSU, led by Jordan Schakel's 16-point night, put on a clinic in the first 20 minutes in this one. They were lethal from deep, mid-range and under the basket. Wyoming (10-6, 4-5) had no answer on defense -- or offense -- as the Aztecs rolled to a 63-30 lead at the half.

Linder is going to wait to pass judgement on his team's shot selection until he looks at the film, but one thing he does know is the Aztecs (12-4, 6-3) had way too many easy looks and shutdown nearly all facets of Wyoming's typically high-powered offense.

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"Well, unless you see it, unless you feel it, I mean, they haven't played against the legitimate defense," he said. "That's a Top-25 defensive team in the country. It's not like they're crazy long like they've been in the past. I mean, they've got a collective toughness to them. They know that winning lies on the defensive end of the floor. You can see that with their intentions. You can see that in their stances. You can see in the way that they they sit down and guard the ball."

Wyoming got a firsthand look tonight.

Linder preaches the gospel of good habits and making winning plays. Both of those categories were fairly bare after this one. Wyoming uncharacteristically turned the ball over 16 times. They were outrebounded, 43-31. SDSU had 17 fast-break Points. UW, four. The Aztecs outscored the Pokes 46-14 in the paint.

Ouch.

Yes, Linder was the first one to point out this team's youth and inexperience yet again. You're probably tired of hearing it, but that will be the overriding theme of this season. It very well could be next year, too.

And it's the truth.

Most of the Cowboys' roster played in its 16th collegiate game tonight. The Aztecs, though they lost plenty of firepower from last year's 30-2 squad, is still loaded with top-tier talent.

Tonight was the difference between a program and the beginnings of one.

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We saw the same thing in back-to-back 20-plus point home losses to Boise State. We could see it again real soon with the Cowboys set to take on SDSU again Saturday before hosting Border War rival Colorado State for two and heading to Utah State for another pair.

Yes, the Cowboys have some issues. Defensive lapses and rebounding are right at the top of the list. On nights like this, you can't have those two things and only shoot 30 percent from the field.

You certainly can't miss 30-of-40 three-pointers.

"You know, you get beat by 30 and you don't feel like you'll ever win a game again," Linder said. "But with a young team, that's what's going to allow you to grow. That's what's going to allow you over time to get better. Because they now know when you go to practice and a coach gets on you about it's not good enough, the intensity's not good enough defensively, now they can get something to go back on. They can remember what it's like when you get your butt kicked by a team."

Graham Ike

No such thing as a moral victory?

Those were Linder's words, not mine.

It's not easy to find a lot of sunshine for the Cowboys in this one even though it was played on a beach. They got worked on both ends of the floor. SDSU made things look awfully easy all night long.

But, if you look hard enough, there were some moral victories in SoCal.

  • Graham Ike
  • Wyoming won the second half
  • Kwane Marble
  • Free throws

OK, maybe I'm grasping at straws on that last one. Wyoming did go 11-for-13 from the line tonight. The charity stripe hasn't exactly been a bright spot for this team though. The Cowboys have missed 88 of those through the first 16 games in 323 chances.

Let's go back to the top.

The 6-foot-9 forward from Aurora, Colo., playing in just his third Division-I contest, very much looked like he belonged. He banged in the paint, made some pretty shots and skied for six rebounds. Ike finished with 10 points. More impressive, just two personal fouls while playing aggressive against the Aztecs lengthy front court.

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"I thought Graham did a good job," Linder said. "Now, the second half, I thought he did a much better job in terms of our ball-screen coverage. You know, as he gets more experience and more reps, he's only going to get better."

Wyoming played its first conference game tonight without its workhorse and best pure shooter, Kenny Foster. The sophomore is out for the foreseeable future with a left knee injury.

Who was going to be the guy to make those shots, dive for loose balls and get in the dirty areas for this team? The answer is Marble.

The sophomore guard from Colorado was the Cowboys' best player on this night. He did all those things listed above and led the team with 15 points and nine rebounds.

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Believe it or not, Wyoming outscored SDSU 27-24 over the last 20 minutes. I know, who cares, right? Even Linder acknowledged that a team is bound to relax a bit with a 33-point halftime lead.

That is true, but the Cowboys did put together some nice defensive stands in the second half. They forced the Aztecs into a pair of shot-clock violations and contested shots, something they did with zero regularity early in this one.

DuSell hit a couple of three-pointers. Jeremiah Oden, Marcus Williams and Marble sank one, too.

"You know, I was proud of our guys, the way they kept competing," Linder said. "You know, I thought our response was good after being down 33 at the half. No one felt sorry for himself. No one started pouting. I mean, they did a good job of sticking together. I'm proud of that. But, you don't want to lose by 30."

Jeff Linder

Playing with the big boys

You're likely going to hear lines like this from Linder in the coming weeks as Wyoming gets set to tussle with the heavyweights of the Mountain West Conference.

"They're going to have to learn the hard way," he said. "But when you learn the hard way, the experience they get and to play the minutes that they played in that game, it's only going to help us move forward."

The Cowboys still have one more game to go on the Aztecs' home floor Saturday night before returning home to take on arguably the hottest team in the league, CSU.

The Rams (12-3, 9-2) are currently in third place, but are the only team in the league to win at SDSU and Utah State. CSU also handed Boise State its first conference loss Wednesday night.

After the two-game edition of the Border War, Wyoming will travel to Logan, Utah to take on the Aggies (13-5, 10-2), who are currently the No. 2 team in the standings.

The next three opponents have a combined conference record of 25-7. Overall, that trio is 37-12.