3 Quick takes: Young Graham Ike gets firsthand look at a ‘pro’
LOGAN, Utah -- With 14:20 left in the second half, Neemias Queta put his back to the basket and dribbled the ball three times with his left hand.
It was all a set up.
His head cocked to the right, it appeared the 7-footer was blanketed by Graham Ike and looking for a teammate to cut through the lane for a pass. That wasn't it at all.
That sweet power move gave the Aggies a seven-point lead. It got even worse for the visitors, as Utah State pulled away for the 72-59 victory, keeping its NCAA Tournament dreams alive.
That play told a tale of its own Thursday night.
It certainly showed what having a dominant, athletic big man can do for a squad. Guys like Queta don't fall out of trees, but the hope for Jeff Linder is his own 6-foot-9 freshman forward can one day emulate this type of disturbance.
Ike scored just two points on 1 of 6 shooting in Logan. He only played 19 minutes in this much-anticipated matchup. Kenny Foster -- who was not expected to play tonight or possibly the rest of the season with a knee injury -- and Jeremiah Oden were the only two to play less.
I'd be willing to bet Ike learned more in those 19 minutes than he has in the previous eight games combined.
"Graham got to see what it's like to play against a pro," Linder said postgame. "Everyone talks about wanting to be a pro until you actually walk into a real guy."
Linder talked about the need to get shots up much quicker than they did in this one. Queta finished with five blocks and each time the poor soul on the receiving end was serenated with "You got swatted" by the 1,600-plus in attendance.
Xavier DuSell got the chants started here:
So did Foster:
Ike did, too.
The Utah State Twitter staff was nice enough not to show the other three.
Before this game, Linder said "70%" of the Aggies offense goes through big No. 23. I think Wyoming's first-year head coach might be low-balling him a bit.
Queta's presence, no doubt, helped aid in Justin Bean's 21-points night. It helped Steven Ashworth reach the 13-point mark, too. With the Cowboys so concerned about what was going down in the paint, Aggies started stroking in the second half, netting 51.7% of their attempts.
To the surprise of absolutely no one, Wyoming was outscored 38-22 in the paint. Hunter Maldonado, who finished with a team-high 14 points, put forth a valiant effort in deep, splashing a few nice hook shots. He even put Queta on skates once:
It simply didn't happen enough. It hasn't all year.
Queta added 13 rebounds and a pair of assists to the scoresheet in this one. The telecast mentioned Queta is the only player in the nation to have 65-plus blocks and the same number of assists.
Wyoming is hardly alone in falling victim to the Portuguese product.
The Cowboys did a nice job on the big man throughout the first 20 minutes. They held him to just one bucket. They also forced him to the outside. Maybe that's why Wyoming trailed by just three at the half?
The second, well, let's just say the real Queta showed up. So did the Aggies' real offense, which funnels everything to him to get the other four on the court going.
"There's a reason why he's an elite defender," Linder said. "He's one of the best defenders in the country. I'm not sure there are too many in college basketball that have his ability to defend the paint and defend rim."
Might we be saying the same things about Ike soon? It's early, but this round went to the guy in white.
It typically does.
Utah State 72, Wyoming 59
Tale of two halves
As I alluded to a minute ago, Wyoming's game plan was working early.
The Cowboys forced the Aggies into bad shots and they kept Queta away from the glass. Another big difference -- the visitors actually hit shots.
Wyoming shot 48.1% from the field and sank eight triples. Hunter Thompson and DuSell each hit a pair. Drake Jeffries, the Cowboys' latest sixth man, sank three, including a beauty in transition that started with a Marcus Williams laser to Maldonado on the baseline. That turned into a quick no-look pass to DuSell, who then found a wide-open look for the junior-college transfer.
Wyoming trailed 38-35 at the half.
Linder called it an "excuse," but said postgame the last extended layoff did the Cowboys no favors. By now you all now the Pokes have just nine -- eight with a limited Foster -- healthy scholarship players and can't go 5-on-5 in practice in fears that they might sustain yet another costly injury. COVID-10 protocols also limit what the team can do.
The program likes to use the phrase "grabbing the wall." Basically, that means they're tired.
“We haven’t played a lot of games in the last 13 days, but this will help us moving to the final game and Mountain West Tournament,” Linder said. “As we go back and look at the film it will show that we settled for shots and that is something that will need to be adjusted.”
Whether it was fatigue or just a simple case of a good team waking up from a first-half lull, Wyoming was a shell of itself in the second frame. The Cowboys hit just one of 14 three-point attempts. They made just seven other baskets the entire half.
This won't floor you, but this team is not going very far if Williams nets just four points.
This season has been full of learning experiences, hasn't it?
“It starts on the defense end,” Linder added. “In the first half, we forced Utah State into misses and baited them into shots we wanted. But in the second half, it boiled down to open looks that we didn’t make. We had to make plays and just can’t give away that many empty possessions. It's a 40-minute game and you can see the discipline and effort from a veteran team and a young team.”
Linder called Thompson out earlier in the season for his lack of rebounding. It was after the first Boise State blowout in Laramie. Thompson got the brunt of his coach's postgame chat, but in reality, it wasn't a great effort all around in that category.
Being 6-foot-10 will get you some unwanted attention, too.
The Pine Bluffs product has been streaky this season when it comes to shooting, but in this one, he put in the dirty work that Linder and this fanbase has been looking for all along.
Thompson pulled down a career-high 11 boards to go along with 11 points on 3 of 10 shooting. Yeah, that's a lot of misses, but I don't think anyone inside that visiting locker room is complaining.
“Everyone fought hard tonight and Hunter Thompson did a good job tonight on the boards and against Justin Bean,” Linder said. “I was pleased with the effort of our guys tonight.”
As of late, Thompson has had a quicker trigger and has appeared more confident behind the arc. He isn't hesitating. When the open shot is there, he's been taking it. That's not a bad thing, as we saw in the Mountain West Tournament nearly 365 days ago.
In a quarterfinals upset of Nevada, Thompson put up seven shots. He also forced the action, drawing three fouls. He nailed all six free throws and finished with 14 points in 22 minutes in the 74-71 win.
An aggressive Thompson is imperative with the conference tourney a week away.
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