Barnhart’s Debut Receives Rave Reviews From Teammates, Coaches
LARAMIE -- The game plan was apparent early on.
Drive the lane. If that option isn't there, loft it to the big guy.
Through the first 20 minutes of Tuesday night's tilt with Air Force, both of those play calls worked. Sometimes to perfection. Sometimes with ease as Wyoming built an early 12-point lead.
Noah Reynolds typically took care of the first part, blowing past defenders and finishing at the rim. When that avenue closed, Wyoming's 7-foot center took care of the rest.
Nate Barnhart, making his first-career start, netted 11 points on the night. The redshirt freshman attempted five shots from the floor. All five sank. He added six rebounds and finished with two blocks.
"I mean, I think I did good. I obviously had some mistakes," Barnhart said inside Clune Arena after the Cowboys dropped their eighth straight game, falling to Air Force, 82-74. "It just wasn't good enough because we didn't come out with the win."
Jeff Linder called Barnhart the "anchor" of the effort in Colorado Springs.
"He did tremendous," UW's third-year head coach said postgame. "He was a guy that played 30 minutes and didn't look tired the entire time. And that's a guy that hadn't been on the floor for a lot of minutes. For him to come out and do what he did was tremendous."
Linder added Barnhart was key to what the Cowboys were trying to accomplish on the defensive end of the floor, too.
That may be a little harder to believe after Beau Becker went off for 23 points, 20 of which came during the second half. The Falcons' forward drilled three consecutive triples out of the locker room to completely erase the Cowboys' once double-digit lead.
Becker was Barnhart's guy. Those looks were open. All of them.
Turns out, that was the plan.
"Those threes that his man got, I mean, that was the game plan," Linder said, adding that Becker only connected on 7-of-21 from deep coming in and that he was trying to preserve energy due to a roster decimated with injuries. "He kept us in the game and we were right there. But it just just wasn't enough."
Barnhart's unexpected start led to Wyoming's 13th different opening lineup in its first 18 games. With Graham Ike still on the shelf with a right lower-leg injury and Hunter Thompson out with mononucleosis, Linder's hand was forced.
It nearly paid off.
"He was amazing today," said guard Ethan Anderson, who finished with 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting. "... He was phenomenal today. I believe his 7-foot height really helped us and coach utilized him really well. So that's a very good positive for this game. I think he can really help us throughout the season once we do face those guys that are 6-foot-10 and those big guys when we don't have Graham."
Barnhart, the former three-star prospect from De Soto, Kan., is reiterating the company line. This team still has confidence, he says. Despite the 0-6 start to Mountain West play and the fact this team hasn't won a game in more than a month, the big redhead isn't fazed. His teammates don't appear to be either.
Ike might not play this season. Kenny Foster is likely done, too. Brendan Wenzel is nursing a knee injury, Hunter Maldonado is day-to-day with sore ribs and Thompson's return is to be determined.
So, where does this confidence come from?
"I mean, we're down, obviously," Barnhart said. "It's just not been a great year, so far, for us, but we're still confident that we can win games and we can do damage in this conference because we're not afraid of any team.
"I think we still believe that we're the top dogs, really, because I think we're all still confident in our abilities to play."
Wyoming (5-13, 0-6) will host Border War rival Colorado State (10-10, 2-5) Saturday inside the Arena-Auditorium. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. Mountain Time and the game will be televised on FS1.
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