There’s One Not-So-Obvious Reason For Wyoming’s Recent Run
LARAMIE -- Many factors have played into the Cowboys recent success in Mountain West play.
Winners of 4-of-5, Wyoming has certainly benefited from the return of forward Mason Walters, who missed the first 10 games of the season with a thumb injury on his non-shooting hand.
Field-goal percentage -- particularly from beyond the arc -- has also played a major role in this stretch. Jeff Linder's squad leads the conference in that category, sinking nearly 40% of its attempts. The Cowboys drilled 13 from deep in a 98-93 upset of Nevada. Last Tuesday, a dozen fell in an 11-point victory at Air Force.
Wyoming ranks No. 8 in the nation from distance.
Turnovers, an issue that plagued this bunch throughout non-conference play and in lopsided road losses to New Mexico (23) and Utah State (16), has dropped considerably of late. Aside from the 15 giveaways in a setback at San Diego State, Wyoming has averaged just over nine an outing in wins over Fresno State, Nevada, Colorado State and Air Force.
Yes, there has been a little luck involved, too.
Akuel Kot, just like he did in the Mountain West opener against San Jose State, beat the buzzer in a 68-67 victory over the Bulldogs. Lady Luck was wearing Brown and Gold last Saturday inside the Arena-Auditorium. CSU watched an 11-point lead evaporate over the final 1:11 of regulation.
It was one of the most-improbable meltdowns in the history of this game.
There's another reason for this run. One that isn't so obvious.
This makeshift roster, according to Linder, is turning into a player-led team. That all starts with guard Sam Griffin, who has been a journeyman throughout his college career, now playing at his third Division-I university.
"Sam has been really good in the locker room," Wyoming's fourth-year head coach said. "... He's kind of seen the good and the bad. He's done a really good job from a leadership standpoint of really talking to the younger guys and letting them understand that, you know, kind of how lucky we are to be here in terms of just how they get coached every day, not just by myself, by the assistants."
Griffin is the Cowboys leading scorer, averaging 18.1 points per game. The senior is also dishing out a team-best 3.6 assists while playing nearly 35 minutes a night.
The Miami product began his career at UT-Arlington, where he spent two seasons. He netted more than nine points an outing as a freshman. That vaulted to 13.3 the following year. Griffin transferred to Tulsa before the 2021-22 campaign. He kept scoring, netting double figures in both seasons in Oklahoma, but his teams kept landing in the loss column.
The Golden Hurricane won just 16 games during that span. Griffin did his part, averaging more than 14 points a night.
Griffin has seen it all. He's now passing his knowledge, experience on to a Wyoming roster that features 10 underclassmen, including freshmen contributors like Cam Manyawu and Kael Combs.
"Just having somebody like that to, really for the younger guys, because, you know, they've never been through such a long year and a long season," Linder said. "So, for them to hear from a guy that's a good player and that they respect, those are the things that go a long way."
Walters, the reigning NAIA Player of the Year, who spent four seasons at the University of Jamestown, along with Kot, also a four-year starter at Division-II Fort Lewis College, Linder said, have also been leaders in the room. Brendan Wenzel is one of just four holdovers from last season's nine-win campaign. So is Kenny Foster and Caden Powell. Those three have seen the highs and lows within this program.
Linder often says he likes the direction his team is heading. That goes for off the court, too.
"You don't want to be a coach-led team," he said. "I think, as as we've made our way here over the last few weeks, you can see where guys are taking ownership and it's trending toward a player-led team."
Wyoming (12-9, 5-3) is looking for its sixth conference win Saturday night against UNLV (11-9, 4-4) inside the Thomas and Mack Center. Tipoff is slated for 6 p.m. Mountain Time and the game will be televised on CBS Sports Network.