3 Quick takes: Pokes are consistently inconsistent
LARAMIE -- It's never Groundhog Day with this basketball team.
They are consistently inconsistent. There's something different each time they trot out on the court.
Less than 72 hours ago, Wyoming was shooting at a 53-percent clip and draining 14 3-pointers. The Cowboys defense, well, let's just say they were MIA as Air Force poured in an Arena-Auditorium record 17 three's of its own.
Fast forward to Saturday afternoon. The offense was nearly nonexistent at times. Turnovers were plentiful -- eight in the first half alone -- and the Cowboys hit just 9-of-29 shots over the first 20 minutes.
They got behind early. They never caught up.
"We came out in the second half and tried to play catch up," Hunter Maldonado said postgame. "Instead of staying the course, we tried for the home run. (New Mexico) handled its business on offense."
Jake Hendricks got injured, falling to the floor and grasping his non-shooting elbow and missing all but five minutes of this one. That certainly didn't help matters. TJ Taylor, the player the Cowboys need persistence from most, was invisible. He finished with two points.
As Wyoming struggled with a more athletic New Mexico team in the paint, the slow-starting Lobos started to find their groove, pulling away late in the first half thanks in part to a 15-2 run.
"The question is, can you chip away? There's no such thing as an 11-point shot," Wyoming head coach Allen Edwards said. "We got caught up in a scoring battle. I told our guys, we are just trading baskets."
An alley-oop from Corey Manigault to high-flying JJ Caldwell was just an exclamation point on yet another maddening outing for Edwards' Cowboys.
There were roughly six more Lobo dunks with the same effect.
New Mexico hit 60 percent of its shots in the second half. They outscored the Pokes in the paint, 44-24. The Lobo bench netted 26. Wyoming's rebuttal -- nine.
If there is one dependable thing about this team its the fact they never quit.
"I liked the fight of our guys," Edwards said. "Losing Jake really hurt the process. It allowed an opportunity for younger guys to get on the floor. But that wasn't productive, offensively, anyway."
Maldonado, who scored a game-high 27 points, flushed a violent slam dunk in traffic to pull the Pokes to within 10 early in the second half. The redshirt sophomore weaved through traffic and started to make plays down low. He hit a 3-pointer to make it a nine-point New Mexico lead, then pulled down a rebound at the other end of the floor. He also tacked on a steal to his stat sheet moments later.
It was too little, too late.
And he can't do this by himself.
That's part of what Edwards says stood in the way of the Cowboys attempting a legitimate comeback Saturday.
"I worry about them trying to do it yourself, not as a team," he said."
And unfortunately for Edwards and the Pokes, another steady theme follows along on this ride -- ending up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
New Mexico 79, Wyoming 65
Handing over hardware
Fennis Dembo told me this morning that he had a surprise in store.
Boy, he wasn't kidding.
It was an emotional scene at halftime. The "Dazzling Dude" wiped tears away as his No. 34 jersey was slowly vaulted into the rafters of the Arena-Auditorium. His teammates -- Jon Sommers, Sean Dent, Reggie Fox and others -- and family stood behind him as Wyoming athletics director Tom Burman told Dembo what he means to fans in this state. He even called him the "most polarizing player" in school history.
That's when Dembo took the mic. He thanked everyone, waved and talked about how special it was to play in this building, in front of these fans. Then he reached in his coat pocket and said he was "marrying" Wyoming.
He handed Burman his 1990 NBA Championship ring. It was a gift to the university.
It was a special moment.
A little side note: I did try to coax him into sliding into his old uniform and have him jump up and sit on the rim. Wasn't happening.
Hey, I tried.
Where's the emotion?
Maldonado laid his forehead on a white table in front of him. He just glimpsed at the stat sheet.
He didn't like what he saw. Particularly when it came to offensive rebounding. Wyoming snagged just eight of those all game.
"Six can't be the most rebounds we have from a guy," he said, ironically referring to himself.
He just shook his head.
I asked him and AJ Banks if frustration is starting to creep in? The Cowboys have lost four games in a row, not to mention their first two shots at league opponents -- in Laramie.
"We aren't letting the frustration sink in," said Banks, who netted 15 points in the loss. "We are trusting in the process."
But what if that process isn't working?
Yes, losing Hendricks was all but a death nail against the Lobos, but there was virtually zero secondary scoring. Aside from Maldonado, Banks and a 12-point outing from Hunter Thompson, the rest of the lineup combined to score 11 points.
Especially against a tall, long, athletic club like New Mexico. The Lobos have now won 8-of-10 against the Cowboys and are off to a 9-2 start. They are also unbeaten in conference play.
They have three starters averaging double-digit scoring per outing. Four Lobos -- Manigault, JaQuan Lyle, Carlton Bragg and Makuach Maluach -- hit double figures Saturday.
They might be the best team in the Mountain West this season. Time will reveal that. Their 14-point victory in Laramie was sloppy. New Mexico gave the ball away 19 times. They shot just 36.7 percent from the field in the first half.
The score is not indicative of how this game went. It had the feeling of a blowout from the 10-minute mark of the first half.
Imagine if the Lobos actually played their best ball?