3 Quick takes: Hello darkness my old friend
LARAMIE -- I had a nice column all geared up and ready to go.
It talked about the grit of this Cowboys' team. I opined about how this finally looked like a college basketball team. A Division-I squad at that. Wyoming's zone defense stifled UNLV all evening. Freshman Kwane Marble had a big coming-out party, scoring a career-high 19 points. Jake Hendricks added 18.
Finally, it wasn't Hunter Maldonado carrying the load, though he did finish with 16, 14 of which came in the second half. This was a team effort. This would be the Pokes' first Mountain West Conference victory. A hard-earned, defying-the-odds win over a team they shouldn't beat.
Head coach Allen Edwards had a nice game plan Saturday, too, one that included slowing down UNLV's physicality in the paint and not draining the shot clock on every trip down the court.
Then, the other shoe dropped.
Reality set in.
What was I thinking writing a premature column about how this team can compete throughout the duration of this schedule? That's on me.
This loss is on them.
This young team has found plenty of ways to lose this year. Typically, they prefer the blowout variety. Then there was the time Utah Valley dropped in a layup with less than 10 seconds on the clock.
Tonight was worse than the previous 12 losses before it. Maybe combined.
With a victory all but penciled in the win column, Wyoming found a way to unload a clip into its own foot with less than a minute to go.
They needed one made free throw in regulation to sink the visiting Rebels. Instead, Hendricks and Hunter Thompson -- two of the Pokes' best shooters -- combined to miss four straight from the stripe. Hendricks added two more misses in overtime. Maldonado missed one, too.
They needed a defensive stand. Instead, they fouled Donnie Tillman, an 80-plus free-throw shooter, with one single tick left on the shot clock. He tied it up with a pair of swishes.
Wyoming (5-13, 0-6) gave up a late 8-0 run in that final 60 seconds. The Cowboys gave up at least six offensive rebounds in that time frame.
The final minute of this one was a microcosm of this entire season. Mistake after mistake. Miscue after miscue. Missed opportunity after missed opportunity. All losses hurt, this one will do nothing but fan the flames of the "Fire Edwards crowd."
They aren't wrong.
But I'm not going there quite yet.
In the first version of this column, I admitted that I didn't see another win for the Cowboys on the schedule. Maybe Fresno State, but probably not. Let's be real -- it's been that bad around here. I was beyond ready to eat crow. Heck, it was in black and white, ready to go out to the masses.
Now, I'm back to square one.
This loss was unforgivable, even for this underachieving squad. It was as bad as it gets. Fundamental basketball went out the window. Wyoming panicked.
And this was on its home court.
The fact this game went to overtime spelled doom for this bunch. The two consecutive three-pointers from the Rebels (9-9, 3-1) to open the extra frame was simply reassurance.
Where do these guys go from here? I can't imagine it gets worse, does it?
This team battled. They fought their tails off. They typically do.
I would never take that away from them.
Once again we saw the Cowboys need for a "killer." Someone with emotion that is going to put the team on its back and refuse to lose. They have no idea how to win. That was apparent once again on a cold January night in Laramie.
This one was gift wrapped.
Yet the Cowboys somehow managed to break the toy before the box was even opened.
Arm-in-arm, the Wyoming bench looked on in that final fateful minute as if this was the final minute of a Sweet 16 game. In reality, this is a 5-13 team that is winless in six tries in conference play.
When will this nightmare end?
A bright spot? Yeah, there was one of those
Where has this Marble kid been all season? I'm sure I'm not the only one thinking that, right? I know I'm not, a friend actually texted me that tonight.
The freshman guard from Denver has been nothing short of an afterthought during his first season in Laramie. He has played four minutes or less in six games. He hasn't logged a single minute in seven.
Saturday night, he was the Cowboys best player. And not just because he led the team in scoring either.
Marble's confidence has been growing as his team has continued to slide. In back-to-back games against No. 7 San Diego State and Border War rival, Colorado State, Marble quietly scored six points in each lopsided contest. He added three steals and a pair of rebounds, too.
Before the past two games, Marble had just 10 points in his collegiate career.
Saturday, the 6-foot, 6-inch, 195-pound guard scored 19 points, pulled down two defensive boards and tallied a pair of steals.
No offense to Kenny Foster, who is a fine young freshman in his own right, but it might be time to see what Marble can really do in a starting role. Actually, it might be time to sit senior AJ Banks in favor of Marble.
Edwards loves Banks defensive effort. And he should. Most of the time it's legit. But when will scoring matter?
Banks had the highlight-reel play of the game Saturday. It was the Pokes' first bucket of the night and it came off a perfect feed from Maldonado in which Banks hammered home a two-handed oop.
That was it offensively for the Las Vegas native. Just when it looked like he was about to make a big-time statement to his hometown team, Banks was held scoreless over the final 39 minutes.
That is not getting it done.
I repeat: The Pokes need a killer
Is there one on this roster? It sure doesn't appear so.
Often I reminisce about the good ol' days in this space. Maybe it's to remember a better time in this building when this used to be the hottest ticket in town and the Arena-Auditorium was cram-packed, even during weekday non-conference games against the Delaware States of the world.
In those days, guys like Brandon Ewing, Brett McFall, Josh Davis, Donta Richardson, Jay Straight, Brad Jones, Marcus Bailey and many, many others throughout UW history had more in common than just being great basketball players -- they were those killers I keep referring to.
McFall would drop the big three and hush the crowd in The Pit. Bailey would stand at the free-throw line, conference title on the line, and calmly sink both to raise a banner. Ewing, Straight and Jones would drive the lane, make the bucket and get to the line. They were unstoppable.
And Davis, I think most of us remember him swatting Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament and pumping his furious fists. Richardson stroking 3-pointers almost at will.
None of that was by accident. Those guys had "it." They refused to lose. And on the few occasions when they did, the next opponent caught hell more often than not.
It's not this current crops' fault if there isn't a killer in in the bunch. Some guys just aren't wired that way. It's the head coach who is in charge of finding that in the first place.
It's called recruiting. I don't think it took much film work to find that Richardson, McFall or Chris McMillian would drop the hammer.
Where is that guy? Where is the emotion? When does a clipboard fly across the floor and a suit coat end up five rows deep?
To me, it's troubling. It puts off the vibe that no one cares, which I know is certainly not the case with this group.
It's recruiting. It all starts there.