Cowboys Own Worst Enemy in Turnover Department
LARAMIE -- There are many reasons for the eye-popping turnovers that keep appearing on Wyoming's stat sheet if you ask Jeff Linder.
Ball handlers getting sped up is one. Whether that's the level of competition or the arena environment, it's real.
Look no further than Jaelen House, New Mexico's eccentric senior guard, who was credited with a team-best five steals in a lopsided 77-60 victory over the Cowboys inside the vaunted Pit in Albuquerque.
Jamal Mashburn and Joseph Nelly also finished with three takeaways.
Wyoming turned the ball over 23 times that night. New Mexico, six.
"Some days you just have some crazy games, crazy halves," the head coach said, referring to a 22-point first half that saw his team shoot just 35% and make seven shots from the field.
That also included 18 turnovers.
"That's probably the worst half of basketball, in terms of offensively, that I have probably witnessed in my 24 years of coaching," Linder added.
The Cowboys' consolation prize was a trip to No. 20 Utah State to face a squad that had won 13 straight games, tied for the longest streak in the nation.
This time it was a second-half meltdown that led to an 83-59 blowout inside a capacity Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.
Wyoming shot just 33.3% from the floor and sank six buckets over the final 20 minutes in Logan. The visitors committed nine turnovers and allowed the Aggies to go on an 11-0 run out of the break, turning a two-point halftime deficit into a laugher in the blink of an eye.
The Cowboys turned the ball over 19 times in that loss.
That has been a troubling theme throughout the first 17 outings this season. Wyoming is averaging just a tick under 15 giveaways a game. That equates to 254 turnovers. That ranks 331st in Division-I out of 351 teams.
That's the worst mark in the Mountain West.
Linder has pointed to the fact many of the players on this current roster have never played in venues like these, whether they are coming from NAIA, the Division-2 level or are true freshmen. Playing styles also play a part, he added. UTEP, for instance, forced 16 turnovers with its relentless ball pressure. Same goes for the Lobos.
"I just thought, you know, we got caught," Linder said, referring to that loss in Albuquerque. "Like I said, it's one of those games where, I don't know, maybe it's kind of like Josh Allen back in the day against BYU."
How do you fix this issue?
Linder said it has already started to turn around since the return of Mason Walters, who missed the team's first 10 games with a thumb injury on his non-shooting hand.
The reigning NAIA Player of the Year has averaged nearly 12 points per outing. He is pulling down 3.4 boards and dishing out almost two assists. Those numbers all need to -- and should, if you ask his head coach -- raise as he gains experience.
Over the last seven games with Walters in the lineup, Wyoming has averaged 13.7 turnovers while going 3-4 overall during that stretch. The Cowboys weren't too generous in conference wins over San Jose State (5-the only time this season UW has finished in single digits) and Fresno State (12), turning the ball over just 17 total times.
In the four losses? That number jumps to 16.5 per contest.
"Mason, as we've seen, he's a really good passer, especially when he's able to use both hands and he doesn't have a club on his left hand like he did in the UTEP deal," Linder said, comparing him to Hunter Maldonado. "I think, for us, a lot of our offense is going to run through him because he has the ability to slow the game down. He's a really, really good passer and he allows us to get to the other action -- the next action -- which I think sometimes for us, you know, we kind of take the bait, so to speak.
"I think overall, especially with Mason being back, I mean, the turnovers have definitely gone down, significantly."
Guards Akuel Kot and Sam Griffin, Wyoming's leading scorers, respectively, both average a team-worst 3.1 giveaways per game.
Shooting percentage has also been a major issue in the Cowboys' eight losses. That number sits at 40.3%, while the opponent nets 51%. In the team's nine victories, those numbers nearly flip flop. Wyoming hits 50% of its shots while holding the opposition to just 39.5%.
Consistency has been hard to come by with a group that is made up of nine new faces.
"It's kind of a new age of college basketball," Linder said, referring to Utah State, who also had a complete roster overall in the offseason. "When you kind of get the right pieces together and get six or seven guys that know what they're doing and are about winning, you can do some things.
"... So, you know, when you add those pieces and you have smart players, I mean, it doesn't take that long to kind of try to figure things out."
Wyoming (9-8, 2-2) hosts Nevada (15-2, 2-1) Saturday evening inside the Arena-Auditorium. Tipoff is slated for 5:30 p.m. and the game will be streamed on the Mountain West Network.