3 Quick takes: Pokes exorcise some demons, stun rival Rams
LAS VEGAS -- Admit it, you were experiencing some major flashbacks Wednesday night.
When the Cowboys' lead grew to 16 in the opening round of the Mountain West Tournament, you didn't celebrate.
You didn't gloat.
You didn't take your foot off the fandom pedal.
Not with that team on the opposing bench. Heck, not with your team, period.
Time and time again, Wyoming has found a way to lose during a forgettable regular season that saw Allen Edwards' crew limp to a 7-23 record, falling in 14 of its last 16 outings. They gave away wins to Nevada twice. UNLV escaped Laramie, too. Boise State came close to being a victim.
No loss was more glaring though than a 19-point lead the Cowboys squandered in Laramie against Border War rival Colorado State just three short weeks ago.
That was in the front of your mind. Don't worry, you weren't alone.
Here they were again, trucking the Rams and cruising to what should've been an easy victory. Instead, CSU scratched, clawed and found a way to make this a one-possession game in the waning seconds.
You might have said something like this: "Here we go again."
I'll admit it, I was right there with you.
Then AJ Banks, a senior who averages just 4.9 points per game, toed the line and hit six huge free throws inside the final 1:28. Before that, the Las Vegas native hit back-to-back shots to extend the Cowboys lead to 69-56 with less than four minutes to go.
To put the cherry on top, redshirt sophomore Hunter Maldonado swiped a pass and drove the length of the court, emphatically flushing a two-handed jam to lift the Cowboys to an improbable 80-74 victory and send their 20-win rivals back to reality.
Wyoming finally won a game it shouldn't.
Wyoming finally closed out a game.
Wyoming and its core of youth finally refused to lose.
"At this point, it's tournament time now," Edwards said postgame. "The guys came out with confidence and believed they could win."
The Cowboys became the first 11 seed to ever win a game at the conference tournament. They shot a season best 46.2 percent from the field and drained 12 3-pointers. Wyoming's 44 points in the first half were the most this season. The Pokes committed a season-low seven turnovers and a season-high 19 assists.
That, my friends, is winning basketball.
They say every dog has its day. Well, today belonged to Jake Hendricks, TJ Taylor, Maldonado, Banks and Kwane Marble, who all scored in double figures.
For once, the Cowboys were the big dog on the porch.
CSU played the part of fire hydrant.
Maldonado gets off the mat
Wyoming's super sophomore many nights has been the lone reason the Cowboys are even in a game. He leads the team in all major statistical categories. Some, by a mile.
Wednesday night, Maldonado had one point in the first 20 minutes.
Believe it or not, that was good news for the Cowboys, who held a 44-39 lead at the half.
That gap was created by Hendricks, who nailed four 3-pointers. Taylor added 13 points, too. Marble landed a dozen in the first as the Pokes shot 50 percent from the field and were 8-of-14 from beyond the arc.
They needed Maldonado in the second half though.
And aside from an embarrassing air ball at the free-throw line, he did just enough to get the Cowboys over the hump.
"I didn't say anything to him," Edwards told television cameras after the victory. "I just thought to myself, 'that won't happen in the second half.' The air ball worried me a bit."
You weren't the only one coach.
But like he has done all season, Maldonado, at times, put this team on his back. He finished the night with 13 points. He scored the first two buckets out of the locker room, hit a key free throw in the final minute and threw down the exclamation point with that finishing dunk.
And he did it with a clear hitch in his giddy up.
No matter, he played the part of "killer." The Cowboys needed to see that more this season. But Wednesday, Maldonado helped vault Wyoming to another day in Sin City.
That's all that really matters now.
It's hard to beat a team three times in a season
Stats LLC claims that over the past 10 seasons, 72.4 percent of the teams that win the first two games of the regular season also claim the third.
It appears to be hard, but the numbers say otherwise.
Don't tell that to the Rams. Or the Wolf Pack.
Wyoming was swept by both during the regular season. Nevada beat the Cowboys in Reno, 68-67. In the second meeting, Steve Alford's squad escaped the Arena-Auditorium with a 73-68 victory.
Nevada finished the season 19-11 and earned a first-round bye in the MWC Tourney.
That win in Laramie was their sixth straight. They fell to Top-5 San Diego State in Reno four days later.
The name of the game Thursday night will be shutting down Jalen Harris. The junior from Dallas has led the Wolf Pack in scoring the last nine games. He isn't just scoring, he's doing it at will.
Harris averaged 28 points a night during that stretch. In that meeting in Laramie, he sank 23. Banks and Co. have their work cut out for them.
And don't let that "three-game"stat above scare you. It certainly didn't worry the Pokes Wednesday night.
They are playing with house money.
Pokes and Wolf Pack hit the floor at 8:30 p.m. Thursday night.