3 Quick takes: UW Defense a no-show in MWC opener
LARAMIE -- Defense.
That's all this Wyoming squad talks about. It gets repetitive at times, especially when it doesn't show up on the court.
Most nights it does -- Wednesday was not one of those nights.
The Cowboys forgot to guard Air Force's leading scorer, Lavelle Scottie. And for good measure, they left Mason Taylor wide open the majority of the night, too. Caleb Morris, Ryan Swan and AJ Walker even got in on the scoring parade.
All five finished in double-figures. Walker led the way with 20.
"I think they started out pretty hot," Hunter Maldonado said postgame. "I think that's our fault. They got wide-open looks and a team can get hot quick."
Wyoming's Austin Mueller couldn't stop Air Force. Neither could TJ Taylor or AJ Banks. No one, for that matter, could stop the guys from Colorado Springs in this one.
It was just one of those nights.
Allen Edwards' zone defense was not effective. Neither was the man-to-man. The Falcons got open looks -- and literally hit 31-of-51 of them. All Wyoming's head coach could do is throw up his hands and shake his head in his postgame press conference.
It got even worse for the Cowboys (3-6, 0-1) in the second half.
"What I shared with the team is, I think we got into an offensive battle tonight," Edwards said. "We started the game defending. We started the second half defending. We just got caught up in the scoring piece. The offense will come if you stay true to your defense.
"Tonight, we didn't play defense."
Much like the Falcons football team, it's no big secret what the visitor's offense is going to do.
They are going to slow-play you all night long. They wait for the backdoor to open up. They drain shot clock and wait for the perfect shot. That part happened far too frequently in the Cowboys Mountain West opener in front of another less-than-impressive crowd inside the Arena-Auditorium.
In fact, it was a record-breaking performance from the Falcons (4-5, 1-0). They hit 17-of-30 from three. Texas State used to hold that record for most threes hit in this building with 16 back in 2008.
Air Force shot 53 percent from the field on the night. They went on extended runs of 7-0, 8-0, 9-0 and 11-0. If it wasn't for four three-pointers from Wyoming senior, Jake Hendricks, and a pair from Hunter Thompson, this one might have been a laugher at the half.
And to think, the Falcons didn't score a point until the clock was under 16:00.
"We preach defense, defense, defense," Hendricks said. "We didn't do a good job tonight and it showed."
Maldonado said the Cowboys were late to react to Air Force's offense. They didn't get off screens. They rarely got a hand in the face.
"This is the second game in a row, Id' say, were we didn't do what we were supposed to do on defense," Maldonado said.
"This team, to put ourselves in a position to win, has to play defense, rebound and take care of the ball," he said. "Kudos to our guys for the offense tonight, but it doesn't matter if the other team scores more than you.
"... They played better tonight."
Wyoming turned the ball over just 11 times. They lost the rebound battle, 33-28.
Wednesday night's defensive display is not a recipe for winning basketball.
But to Wyoming's credit, they never gave up. The Cowboys closed the gap to 80-74 late in regulation. A 13-2 run aided by some big shots by Thompson, Maldonado and Hendricks made things interesting.
The game clock just wouldn't slow down.
"I like my group," Edwards said. "I like they way they come and work. Again, the first four minutes of both halves were our brand of basketball.
"Defense -- it was disappointing tonight."
Air Force 86, Wyoming 77
The Hornet is starting to sting
This week, Edwards said he emphasized getting Thompson going under the hoop. That part of the game plan worked.
The 6-foot, 10-inch Pine Bluffs product netted nine points in the first half. He hit a pretty jumper off the glass to give the Cowboys' their second bucket of the night. He followed up with a pair of 3-pointers.
The sophomore wasn't done there.
Thompson hit his first two shots of the second half, including a big 3-pointer than got the Cowboys to within 40-38. He finished the night with 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field. He also hit four 3-pointers.
On the defensive side, Thompson was a beast at times, too. He clogged up the middle, was immovable at times and even pulled down 7 rebounds in 32 minutes of work.
This is the Thompson Edwards and the Cowboys have been patiently waiting to see.
"I think he has to get even more comfortable and demanding," Edwards said of Thompson. "He needs to get mad at some guys. He still has to want the ball."
In layman's terms, Thompson needs to quite being so nice.
"He's a great kid," Edwards said with a grin. "He wants to do what the coaches tell him. He doesn't want to hurt feelings.
"Tonight was a growth step for him. He did a much better job rebounding. He's making steps in the right direction."
Thompson was in no mood to talk about his big night offensively. He only raised his head twice to answer questions from the media.
"I would say I got to the basket early and saw some balls go in," he said. "With shooters, when you get an easy one going in it helps with confidence."
What about his play in the paint?
"Our team needs a dominant inside force," Thompson said.
Offense came to play
It's typically the offense that is the biggest question mark for this group of Pokes.
In Las Vegas last week, they scored 15 points in the first 20 minutes against nationally ranked Colorado. They followed that up with a 14-point first half against TCU.
Surely if this team scores 77 points they are going to win, right?
Wrong. Not on this night.
Wednesday, the Falcons weren't the only ones connecting from distance. Wyoming hit 14-of-30 in that category. They also shot 53 percent from the field, matching Air Force.
The Cowboys finished with a season-high in points, field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage.
Maldonado led the Pokes with 18. Thompson and Hendricks chipped in with 17 each. Even Taylor scored in double figures with 10.
Edwards was right though -- the Cowboys got in a shootout. They didn't play hard on the other side of the court. No matter how many points they scored, the Falcons had an answer.
"Yeah, it's a positive," Hendricks said of the Pokes shooting effort. "But we shouldn't have been in the position in the first place."