LAS VEGAS -- After a lopsided 98-71 loss to San Diego State in late January, Jeff Linder said he approached Aztecs' head coach Brian Dutcher and thanked him.

Huh?

"You just gave me 40 minutes of what I can show our guys for the next six-to-nine months of what winning looks like at the defensive end of the floor," Linder said he told Dutcher. "And just the habits that hopefully we will build over time, which we will."

I guess we can consider the Cowboys' seven games since a homework assignment.

Tomorrow is the big test.

Wyoming will meet the 19th-ranked Aztecs inside the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Tournament. SDSU is the No. 1 overall seed and the regular-season league champions. They've won 11 games in a row. Wins three and four of that run came against Linder's young group.

The Cowboys dismantled San Jose State Wednesday in the opening round, netting 111 points in a 31-point rout of the Spartans. Graham Ike finished with a game-high 32 points. Xavier DuSell added 19 and Hunter Maldonado pitched in with 17. Marcus Williams finished with 15.

It was the Cowboys' best offensive showing of the year. The stats prove that. The eye-ball test works, too.

Thursday's effort might have to be even better.

And not necessarily on the offensive side of the floor.

Wyoming gave up 80 points to SJSU in the opener. The Spartans shot nearly 43% from the floor and hit 9-of-20 from deep.

Linder said earlier in the week that teams are bound to go into scoring droughts throughout a game. When that happens, defense is key.

That dry spell never came Wednesday. Wyoming firmly pressed its collective foot on the gas and hit triple digits. The chances of that happening again against the Aztecs is slim. Very, very slim.

"We're going to celebrate this one until we leave the the leave the arena, and then we know we have a tall order ahead of us with the team that, for lack of a better term, embarrassed us," Linder said. "... We look forward to the opportunity and the challenge, and really it's a benchmark to see where we're really at as a program."

After that two-game sweep in sunny San Diego, Linder was critical of his team. He talked about needing more from the few veterans like Maldonado and Hunter Thompson. He talked about a little bit of in-fighting on the bench, too.

Basically, he told his squad it was his way or the highway.

Did that message stick?

"It resonated. If it didn't resonate, then we have the wrong guys, because that's some of the things that unfortunately, you got to go through with a young team," he said Wednesday, adding that SDSU can go five seniors deep in its starting lineup. "... I could sit there and tell them until I'm blue in the face. I could talk about what it takes to win in the Mountain West, but until they really saw it and felt it, which I think they more so felt the intensity that Matt Mitchell brings every single possession, and just how that equates to winning.

"I think it really helped our guys. Now, how much is going to help us tomorrow? I'm not sure. I do know this, we're a whole hell of a lot better right now than we were back then."

 

Here is all you need to know about today's tilt in Las Vegas:

WHO: No. 8 Wyoming (14-10, 8-9) vs No. 1 San Diego State (20-4, 14-3)
AT STAKE: Winner advances to semifinals Friday against Boise State or Nevada
WHEN: Thursday, March 11 at 1:00 p.m. MST
WHERE: Thomas and Mack Center, Las Vegas, Nevada
TV: CBS Sports Network (Channel 221 on DirecTV, 158 on Dish Network, 594 Verizon Fios)
RADIO: Cowboy Sports Network
STREAMING: CBS Sports Network
TICKETS: None
BOX SCORE: Live stats
ROSTERS: Wyoming / SDSU
VEGAS ODDS: SDSU -15/ O/U 143
HISTORY: Wyoming trails the all-time series 46-41 (Cowboys lost both regular-season meetings in San Diego)
HEAD COACHES: Jeff Linder / Brian Dutcher

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