3 Quick takes: Edwards & Co. don’t care if you believe — they do
LAS VEGAS -- Allen Edwards likes to use the word "kills" when he talks about playing solid defense.
In layman's terms, that means stopping the opponent on three straight trips down the floor.
With under two minutes left in the first half, Nevada hit a three on as many possessions to open up a 44-33 lead at the half. It looked like the Cowboys were DOA.
After all, they are just living on borrowed time anyway, right?
They weren't supposed to be here.
They weren't supposed to upset Colorado State Wednesday night.
They surely didn't have a chance against the highest scoring team in the Mountain West and the No. 3 seed tonight.
Instead, Edwards' bunch finished with a fistful of "kills" in a scoreless stretch of more than 10 minutes that saw the Wolf Pack miss 11 straight shots. Slowly, Wyoming took advantage.
With 4:30 remaining on the clock inside the Thomas & Mack Center, Pine Bluffs product Hunter Thompson hoisted up a 3-point shot from the corner.
The Pokes never trailed again, pulling off yet another improbable upset, knocking off Nevada, 74-71.
"Just keep fighting, man," Edwards said, holding back tears.
Just one word followed.
Kwane Marble, who is quickly becoming a monster in March, netted a career-high 24 points in the win. He was 9-of-16 from the field. He hit three triples. The Denver native laid up a tough right-hander in traffic with 1:07 to go, giving the Pokes a four-point lead.
Thompson missed seven straight games with mononucleosis. He played Wednesday night against CSU. Tonight, he made plays, scoring 14 points and going 6-for-6 from the foul line.
The "spark" against the Rams, Jake Hendricks, nailed four 3-pointers and finished with 12 points. TJ Taylor was in foul trouble most of the night, still, he went 4-for-4 from the charity stripe with the game in the balance.
An emotional Edwards stepped up to the CBS Sports microphone after the final buzzer. He had trouble articulating his feelings. He said plenty, but one thing that stood out was a story about a bundle of wooden sticks.
"It's about commitment," he said.
Before each practice, Edwards said this group turns in their stick. It is like a promise ring for men. An oath that says the player is coming to work and blocking out the noise.
"If they aren't committed, that's fine," he added. "I tell them to bring me their stick."
During a timeout late in the second half, Edwards pulled the sticks out in the huddle. He held them up in his teams' face. Animated, he reminded them about their commitment.
All the Cowboys did was go on a 10-2 run and turn the MWC bracket into mush.
Yes, the team that won just two conference games all season, is two victories away from cutting down the nets and heading to the Big Dance.
OK, let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Even if none of the above happens -- and the odds are not in Wyoming's favor -- how about this little run? Many thought the team quit on its coach midway through the season. Nope.
Many fans tuned out two years ago. Welcome back. It's OK, you're not alone.
While some fans are busy theorizing about who the next coach in Laramie will be, all this group has done is put its head down and go to work -- for their coach. We are watching a young team grow up in front of our eyes. They are picking up invaluable experience in the process, too.
Wyoming couldn't finish all season long. Two nights in Sin City has cured that.
No matter what happens when the Cowboys take on No. 2 Utah State Friday night, they have showed heart, guts and resolve in wins over the Rams and Wolf Pack.
What more can you ask for?
Keys to victory
I have this habit of jotting down three keys to a win. Sometimes I'm right, other times I'm the opposite of right.
Tonight, I thought AJ Banks would be the main key to a Cowboys victory. I was wrong. The Las Vegas product was in foul trouble from the opening tip and never got in rhythm.
Why would I pick the senior? He's Wyoming's best defender -- by far. And his task was to shut down Jalen Harris, Nevada's star, who has scored 20-plus points in every single game in February.
Banks didn't shut him down, Hunter Maldonado did.
We are used to seeing Maldonado fill up the stat sheet. He always leads the team in scoring. Not in this tournament. Not so far. The redshirt sophomore did not have a big offensive night, but he traded that for 40 minutes of shadowing the Nevada junior all over the court.
Harris finished with 17 points. Thirteen of those came from the free-throw line. Harris shot just 2-of-13 from the field. He didn't hit a three in five tries.
That was the difference tonight.
My second key: Stay hot from the floor.
Wyoming didn't have quite the showing against the Wolf Pack that it did 24 hours prior on this court against its Border War rival, but it didn't need to.
Nevada's scoring drought, coupled with some clutch shots from guys like Kenny Foster, Greg Milton, and of course, Thompson and Marble, the Cowboys chipped away and eventually took the lead for good. Wyoming shot just 38.7 percent from the field.
That was plenty on this night.
My third key was the Cowboys needed to stay on the plus side in the important "Edwards" categories. They did just that.
Wyoming turned the ball over just 12 times. That matched the Wolf Pack.
The Cowboys dished out 13 assists, four more than Steve Alford's bunch.
And, wait for it -- the Cowboys out-rebounded Nevada, 41-39.
Wyoming even held the edge on the offensive glass, pulling down 11 boards compared to just nine for the guys from Reno.
That's called fundamental basketball, something that seemed foreign to the Cowboys as they trudged through a 7-23 regular season. Now, in season No. 2, they are 2-0.
It's no secret why.
This Marble kid is for real
The Cowboys have found their next star guard.
Is it too early to be proclaiming that? Maybe, but Marble has netted 44 points in two games in Las Vegas. He isn't a one-trick pony, either.
He dishes out assists.
He isn't scared to get in the dirty areas.
He isn't afraid to shoot.
And folks, he is just a freshman. Not the timid kind.
This game didn't come without its heart-skipping-a-beat moments. With 24.6 clicks remaining on the clock, Marble, in traffic, dribbled the ball out of bounds with the Pokes clinging to a 70-69 lead. He didn't pout. He didn't sulk. He lined up and helped the Cowboys defense to its biggest stop of the night.
Milton and Hendricks combined to reject a streaking Lindsey Drew. Ball to Wyoming. Moments later, Taylor sank a pair of free throws. He repeated that on the next trip down the floor. Clutch.
Marble still makes plenty of mistakes. He's young. That will happen.
I'm not comparing him to the likes of Brandon Ewing, Jay Straight or Josh Adams quite yet, but Marble is showing up when the lights are the brightest.
That's special. Not just anyone can do that.