3 Quick takes: Growing pains starting to wear on young Cowboys
SAN DIEGO -- The sequel is never better than the original, right?
At least not when it comes to this San Diego State basketball team.
Let's face it, the Aztecs are in another stratosphere at this point compared to this youthful Wyoming team. They showed that for the second game in a row, blowing past the visiting Cowboys 98-71 tonight inside an empty Viejas Arena.
San Diego State (13-4, 7-3) scored 185 points in the two-game sweep. The Pokes (10-7, 4-6) averaged just 64 per night in SoCal. That's also the 14th consecutive loss for UW in this building, dating back to 2007.
I can sum up Jeff Linder's postgame press conference like this:
- We're young
- We learned a lot from this
- We need to take every single possession seriously
It's a broken record. A necessary one though, even if it doesn't look good in print. This won't be the last time you hear it either. I promise.
The Aztecs have built up a perennial winner. Not just in the Mountain West, but on the national scene. Steve Fisher took this program to new heights and handed the keys to the Maserati to Brian Dutcher. He hasn't so much as squealed the tires.
Linder said he actually thanked the Aztecs' coach after this lopsided loss.
"I said, 'hey, thank you.' He's like, 'what are you thanking me for?'" Linder said. "Because you just gave me 40 minutes of what I can show our guys for the next six-to-nine months of what winning looks like at the defensive end of the floor. And just the habits that hopefully we will build over time, which we will."
San Diego State is scary good.
It's a senior-laden squad that simply slows the game down and makes it look way too easy. It's not just against the Cowboys, but, tonight, the Aztecs once again methodically picked apart the visitors on the offensive side of the ball. Wide open shots were a plenty. Guys like Matt Mitchell and Jordan Schakel always appeared to be alone. So did Keshad Johnson and Lamont Butler.
That's because most of the night they were.
Mitchell netted a game-high 26 points and Schakel chipped in with 10. Johnson sank a career-high 15 points. Butler added 11.
The Aztecs again shot better than 60 percent from the floor. Again, they dominated on the glass, 35-20. They added 11 three-pointers, too.
Like Thursday night -- a game in which the Cowboys fell 87-57 -- Wyoming competed in the second half. Shots finally started to fall. The defensive stands came. Marcus Williams scored 13 of his team-high 18 points in that frame. Jeremiah Oden added nine, including back-to-back triples. Even Drake Jeffries hit a pair from deep.
"Those guys, you know, they felt us," Linder said of the Cowboys' second-half performance. "You make some emotion come out of them because you were competing the right way. You were fighting and you were competing. I think that's the biggest thing we're going take from it."
Too bad there are 40 minutes in a basketball game, huh?
Wyoming simply isn't there yet.
If you don't need the scoreboard to tell you that, I will. So will Linder and other leaders on this team. I think we all knew it would take a near perfect outing to split this series. After the dust settled, I'm not sure that would've even done it.
If there was one difference in this version of a Linder press conference, it was this -- some frustration is starting to surface.
That's not necessarily a bad thing.
That comes with expectation -- and blowout losses. It's bound to come when Linder's blueprint isn't followed.
There's trying, fighting and competing, Linder said. He wants the latter more than anything. He added that he is the only person in the visiting locker room that has ever won in this building before.
"We had a little bit of fighting, whether that was amongst ourselves, or when coaches are trying to coach you hard," he said. "As I told them, if you don't want to get coached hard, we all have choices nowadays. I mean, you'll find someplace else where someone's going to let you do whatever you want to do, because the last time I checked, I looked down there at the other bench and those guys get coached hard."
In layman's terms: it's Linder's way or the highway.
That's how you start to build a program like the one that resides in San Diego.
Oldies need to be goodies
Wyoming needs more from the few veteran players it actually does have.
No one knows that better than those guys -- and their coach.
Hunter Maldonado netted just four points in this one. They all came at the free-throw line. Hunter Thompson sank a single bucket, also from the charity stripe.
That's not the alarming stat believe it or not.
The Cowboys' two juniors combined for just four shots.
"I mean, that probably goes without saying," Linder said of needing more output from his two elder statesmen. "It's not the lack of trying. They are playing against other good players, but you got to find a way to help us."
Linder said some of the issues could lie with playing with such a young, inexperienced group around them.
Still, he expects more.
"They're making their fair share of mistakes, too," he said. "They got to shore those up. But, they care and they want to be good, but you got to pay the price to be good. That's the bottom line. You have to really want to sacrifice some things in order to to be a really good team at this level and be a really good player. And, you know, maybe they have to sacrifice a little bit more."
It's going to be tough enough for this team to consistently win in year one of this new regime, but without substantial contributions from these two, things could get ugly in a hurry.
Tonight, they combined for five boards, a pair of turnovers and six personal fouls.
Thompson doesn't need to light up the scoresheet every night. Neither does Maldonado. When that duo is rebounding, playing lock-down defense, dishing assists and drawing the attention of opposing defenses, that is worth its weight in gold.
Scoring is the cherry on top.
Cheer 'em up
Remember how resilient you were when you were a youngster?
We were too young to know better. Consequences? What are those?
That's the beauty of this team right now -- to a degree. Obviously, Linder wants full buy-in, no matter the situation, but this squad can take it on the chin by double digits against a superior opponent and get right back up and get to work.
What more can you ask for? Seriously.
Every game, my eyes -- and ears -- always get directed to the Cowboys' bench.
This game was getting out of hand in a hurry tonight. SDSU had a 23-point halftime lead, but despite that, the bench cheered on the guys on the floor. They wave towels, pump fists and encourage.
Eoin Nelson and Kenny Foster, crutches, walking boots, knee braces and all, are invested. Even when Xavier DuSell was forced to leave late in the game with a back injury, he was still making noise on the bench, too.
By the way they act you would think no one is even keeping score.
They are engaged when you and me would probably take our ball and go home. No one can ever accuse this team of waving a white flag.
That right there is a foundation you can build upon, right?