Brendan Wenzel Lights Up Air Force in Wyoming’s First Road Win
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., -- Jeff Linder and Brendan Wenzel had a heated exchange during the first media timeout Tuesday night.
Wyoming's senior guard voiced his frustration with the team's defensive arrangement.
Because the guy he was partially responsible for guarding, Air Force's Kellen Boylan, already had 10 points, including a pair of triples, by the 13:25 mark of the first half. The sophomore connected on his first three shots.
They were all wide-open looks.
“It was the coaches instilling in me to be confident,” Boylan told The Gazette postgame. “It kind of felt like practice.”
Turns out, that was the game plan. Linder was sticking to it, too.
"We were going to let No. 23 hit some shots," Wenzel said after the Cowboys pulled off an 83-72 victory inside Clune Arena, their first win away from home this season in eight tries. "Man, did he do that. I was a little bit pissed in the first half, but we got it back."
Boylan entered this game with just 13 makes from deep through 19 games. He stroked three from distance in a December loss to in-state foe Northern Colorado. That was the best night of his young career.
Was, being the keyword.
While the visitors focused on shutting down the Falcons' famous backdoor cuts in the paint, Boylan just kept on drilling threes. When the dust settled in this one, the Kansas product connected on 9-of-14 attempts from beyond the arc, tying a school record. He finished the night with a career-best 32 points. His previous high was 15.
It's just the fifth time Boylan has hit double-figures in his Air Force tenure.
"He kind of got hot there," Wyoming forward Mason Walters said with a smile. "Credit to him, he made a lot of shots. He's a good player, but we stuck with the game plan, trusted coach and came away with the W."
Linder said the idea was to let Boylan -- a 35.1% shooter from long range -- fire away while keeping the Falcons' top scorers at bay. Wyoming did just that. Rytis Petraitis, the team's leading scorer, averaging better than 17 points per outing, was limited to just 11 points. Ethan Taylor came in netting 16.4 a night. He also finished with 11 in the loss.
Beau Becker, who torched the Cowboys in Colorado Springs last season with five three-pointers, hit three shots in this one. All of them came at the free-throw line.
Air Force only managed to sneak two backdoor buckets all night.
"For us to kind of take them out of the rhythm and timing, we had to do something," Linder said. "Obviously, he made shots. Give him credit. I mean, he hadn't made very many shots all year.
"... Sometimes you have to give and take and I thought our guys stuck with it."
While the Wyoming defense limited the Falcons' big three, a trio of their own was cooking on the offensive end.
Walters bullied in the block all night, finishing with 22 points. Akuel Kot got hot from the perimeter, splashing four threes en route to a 20-point outing. Only once this season has the Fort Lewis transfer failed to hit double-digits in scoring. This was his sixth 20-plus point game.
It was Wenzel, however, that stole the headlines for the Cowboys, sinking a career-high six threes. The San Antonio native capped his night with 25 points on 6-of-8 shooting. He also added seven free throws.
“It’s a little bit annoying,” Boylan told The Gazette. “We know scouting reports, so we kind of knew how they were going to play. We just didn’t do a good job of getting our ground against the big man. We just kept letting them get shots off.”
It's the first time since 2018 Wyoming has featured three players in one game with 20 or more points. Hunter Maldonado, Justin James and Trevon Taylor did that in a win over Grambling.
"I feel so happy for him," Walters said of Wenzel. "Just every night he brings it, defensively. He's guarding the best player almost every game, rebounding, and if his shots are not falling, still working his butt off and not complaining. He's a great teammate, and it's just super special for him to kind of get hot there."
Wenzel was awarded postgame with the hardhat. That goes to the player that played with the most effort and toughness. It's not the first time he's earned that honor. It likely won't be his last.
"It means a lot," Wenzel said bluntly. "You know, I'm finally starting to play how I'm supposed to be playing, so it helps a lot. My teammates have been supporting me from the jump, even when I have been playing bad."
Linder said when Wenzel plays the way he did Tuesday night, special things can happen.
"For us to really compete with the upper half of the league, we need all those guys to be good," he said, referring to Sam Griffin, Kot and Walters. "We really need Wenzel to have the confidence and for him to be able to go get 15 or 16 points. There's even a bonus tonight that he got 25, especially when Sam was a little bit off.
"That's where a good team finds a way, when on the road, to go win a game."
About that dust up in the huddle, Linder joked, saying it all worked out.
"Wenzel wasn't very happy about it early," he said with a laugh. "Me and him kind of got after it ... If that's what it takes for him to play like that, shoot like that, I'll get after him every time now."
Wyoming is now 12-9 overall and 5-3 in Mountain West play. The Cowboys, winners of four of their last five, will travel to Las Vegas Saturday to take on the Runnin' Rebels. Tipoff is slated for 6 p.m. Mountain Time and the game will be televised on CBS Sports Network.