3 Quick takes: Pokes need to learn from this and move on — quickly
LARAMIE -- Once again, Boise State ran roughshod over the Cowboys.
Again, it was by double digits.
The dominance the Broncos showed Monday night carried right over into this one. But, somehow someway, they got even better over a 48-hour period.
The stats, yeah, they're ugly. When the scoreboard is that lopsided -- 90-70 -- the numbers typically follow suit.
"That's what winning looks like," Wyoming head coach Jeff Linder said he told his young squad after this one. He's not just talking about this game either.
It's the Broncos' program as a whole.
Boise State (12-1, 8-0) has good habits. That's a word Linder loves to throw around. The visitors played smart, fast and made plays. Or "winning plays" as UW's first-year head coach would say.
To the surprise of absolutely no one, Boise State went to work in the post early and often tonight. Linder dared them early, sending a makeshift starting lineup onto the floor that consisted of no one over 6-foot-8.
They obliged. Over and over again.
The Broncos netted 52 points in the paint. Wyoming, 36.
That's the reality of the situation right now for the undermanned Cowboys, who were without the services of Hunter Thompson and Eoin Nelson, who are both out with lower-leg injuries. The Pokes' only answer was freshman Jeremiah Oden and Hunter Maldonado at the forward spot.
Oden is the starter mentioned above. Maldonado is 6-foot-6.
Wyoming's chances in this one weren't great from the beginning. Boise State shooting 81 percent from the field midway through the first half and sinking 13 of its first 15 shots just hammered home that point.
In the Cowboys' postgame press conference, Oden, Maldonado and Linder all echoed each other with this sentiment: Despite the score, they played an overall better game tonight than the one they lost by 23 just two days ago.
It sounds crazy, but it's the truth.
"I think for anyone who knows what they are watching it was really quite obvious," Linder said of the improvement.
Let's start here: Wyoming outscored Boise State 37-35 in the second half. That wasn't against scrubs either. It's a small victory, but when you have seven healthy players on a roster that is littered with freshman, take all the moral wins you can get, right?
The Cowboys (7-4, 1-3) were outrebounded 47-23 on Monday night. Linder wasn't thrilled with the effort or execution. Tonight, despite not having the 6-foot-10 Thompson in the lineup, Wyoming held its own in that department, 36-32. Offensively, the Pokes won the battle of the boards, 10-6, creating nine second-chance points.
They had zero on Monday.
"I feel like we played better than we did last game even though the score probably doesn't show it ...," said Oden, who finished with 10 points and four rebounds. "I feel like our effort on defense was terrible in the first game. I thought it got a lot better this game. Like I said, I feel like they were a better team tonight, but I feel like we took steps forward as a team ..."
"The last game, we weren't very good," he said, referring to the defensive end of the floor. "It was a lot of being lazy, not boxing out and not going to get the ball. So, I think this game we definitely put an emphasis on that and a lot more guys tried to go and get it and do what we were asked to do."
My biggest takeaway from this two-game series was the Cowboys got themselves an education.
Like Linder eluded to, they got a front-row seat to watch a team that by week's end should be in the Top 25. With no crowd noise, they got to hear how winning programs communicate. They got to see scorers, not shooters. They watched the same plays they practice every day get executed to darn near perfection.
Was it pretty from this end? Hell no.
Was it beneficial? Linder sure thinks so.
"That was the thing when you have a team as young as we do -- they don't know," Linder said. "Again, as I said, I can talk until I'm blue in the face about this, this is what it takes to win at this level ... We don't want to get used to the losing, but sometimes you have to lose against teams like that to make your way forward."
On this day in history, all the way back to last January, the Cowboys were 5-14 and going nowhere fast.
They were coming off a 78-69 home loss to UNLV in overtime. You remember that one, right? Wyoming had a 63-56 lead with just 1:25 remaining in regulation before an epic collapse.
Maybe you rushed to your phone to type "Fire Edwards!" for the 14th time that season? That had to be trending on Twitter at some point last year, huh?
How about the next game? They played Nevada to the wire on the road only to fall 68-67 practically at the buzzer.
They showed heart often during a mostly forgettable 2019-20 campaign. They forgot how to win though.
What's my point, you might be asking yourself.
Rome wasn't built in a day.
This program won't be either. There's a real reason why there's a whole new coaching staff and seven freshmen on the roster. Culture isn't an easy thing to implement.
"I mean, if anyone thought was going to be a quick fix, I got news for you," Linder said. "It's not going to be quick."
Yes, the Cowboys have dropped three straight conference games. All have come by 20-plus points. It's been painful to watch at times. What did you expect?
This young roster teased us all early on, jumping out to a 7-1 record and winning a road game at a PAC-12 venue. Marcus Williams is the fourth-leading scorer in the country amongst freshman. He netted 13 more tonight. Thompson was nailing 3-pointers left and right. So was Kenny Foster, in spurts.
Look at those things as simply building blocks. And no one loses a year of eligibility this winter.
"That's where the guys just got to stay the course; each and every guy and keep getting a little bit better," Linder said. "It's not going to be overnight, but we're going to turn into a good team."
"I'm pretty confident where we're at and how practice is going -- how the team morale is," Maldonado said. "... I think, definitely, that we're fine. There's no reason to panic. Obviously, we lost three in a row now but we can turn that around easily. It's only three games and we are still 7-4."
Help on the way?
Nelson won't be in uniform anytime soon. His return is TBD, according to Linder.
Thompson has swelling in his ankle. Linder hopes he will be back in time for Saturday's game.
Graham Ike, the 6-foot-9 freshman who has yet to make his debut after undergoing ACL surgery in the offseason, he's being cleared to practice tomorrow. Linder isn't about to throw him in cold.
So, is help on the way?
Not on the length front.
Oden and Maldonado are still going to be depended on in the paint. That might not be a bad thing during this next two-game set though. The Pokes are traveling to Colorado Springs to take on Air Force, beginning Saturday at 2 p.m.
The Falcons don't have an Abu Kigab, Mladen Armus or Orlando Robinson. In fact, they don't have a player over 6-foot-7.
You can't be that big and powerful and fit in a fighter jet, I guess? That's good news for the visitors.
The Falcons (3-7, 1-5) run that painfully slow, run-the-clock, Princeton-style offense. Joe Scott is back on the Air Force bench. He runs that system to perfection. Wyoming won't have to run up and down the court all afternoon and worry about being posted up in the paint.
Basically, with the Cowboys' injuries, Air Force is just what the doctor ordered.
Does that mean two automatic victories? Of course not. But it buys just a little more time for the cavalry to get here.
Dates with San Diego State, Colorado State and Utah State are on the horizon.