Jeff Linder Says He’s No Longer Coaching Effort, Calls It ‘Liberating’
LARAMIE -- If it appeared Jeff Linder was calmer than usual on the sideline last Tuesday night in Albuquerque, your eyes weren't deceiving you.
The double-digit lead throughout didn't hurt, but that wasn't the only reason Wyoming's third-year head coach kept his emotions in check.
"As a coach, when you're not having to coach effort during the game -- I mean, you should never have to coach effort -- but when you're having a coach effort, it makes it really hard to focus on some of the things that probably makes me really good in terms of just seeing some things within the game, adjustments we can make within the game, matchups we can attack within the game," Linder said Thursday, adding that he has felt this way since last Saturday's tilt in Boise. "That's what we've unfortunately had to coach a lot of this year."
Effort wasn't an issue inside The Pit.
Wyoming claimed the rebounding battle (39-32), points in the paint (24-22) and second-chance scoring (16-8) in that 70-56 stunner over the Lobos. New Mexico's largest lead was two. That came with 8:47 remaining in the first half. The visitors turned this into a 20-point laugher at the midway point of the final frame, thanks to three consecutive triples off the right hand of Xavier DuDell.
Eleven threes helped the cause. Eleven offensive rebounds set the tone.
So, what's the biggest difference between the team we've seen over these last three outings compared to the one that won just seven games over the first 22?
"When I walked down that ramp with those guys we have that are here now -- it's never going to be perfect, but they're going to die trying -- the effort is going to be there, trying every possession to play at the hardest level they can. That's what they're going to do," Linder said.
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Since that 84-64 blowout at the hands of San Jose State back on Feb. 4, the drama has only escalated around this program. Already without the services of preseason Mountain West Player of the Year, Graham Ike, who decided to sit out the rest of the season with a lingering right foot injury, the Cowboys were dealt another blow early last week when Linder announced he would be shutting down the team's leading scorer. Noah Reynolds suffered a concussion, his third in six months, in that loss to the Spartans.
The adversity didn't end there.
Less than 24 hours later, celebrated offseason transfers Ethan Anderson, Max Agbonkpolo and Jake Kyman abruptly left the team the day before UNLV paid a visit to Laramie.
This team should be even worse, right?
Hunter Maldonado, DuSell and others have recently stressed the importance of playing for the name on the front of the jersey more so than the one on the back. They've talked about unity, accountability and attitude.
"That's what's most important about being here, it's you play for the University of Wyoming," Linder said. "That's the challenge in this day and age is finding those players that understand the importance of that. Those 10 guys that we have in that locker room right now, I mean, they're playing for the University of Wyoming but they're also playing for one another. It's fun to see that."
Though the results haven't always been there, over this latest three-game stretch, the Cowboys have shown drastic improvement nearly across the board. In a 69-59 loss to the Runnin' Rebels, Wyoming held the visitors to just 33% shooting from the field. In a setback in Boise three nights later, UW finished with seven steals, four blocks and won the turnover battle while attempting to erase a 24-point deficit.
It all came together in the Land of Enchantment.
The Lobos, who were the last unbeaten team in the nation at 14-0, were supposed to be the more desperate team after dropping their last three contests. Instead, four of Wyoming's starting five finished in double figures and that aforementioned barrage of threes kept 11,000-plus sitting on its hands.
Their collective mouths still worked, though, booing the home team halfway through the second half before making their way to the exits.
"The effort that we showed in terms of just on the offensive boards and us being able to sustain effort, I mean, that was as good of an effort as I've seen in a long time," Linder added.
Should we expect that mild-mannered coach down the stretch with five regular-season games remaining?
"I can live with the results, win or lose, if the discipline and effort is right," he said. "It just makes it a lot easier as a coaching staff when you're not having to coach effort. It's a liberating feeling."