Tucker’s 10 takes: How would they respond?
LARAMIE -- How will you respond?
Jeff Linder challenges his young roster with that very task on a daily basis.
It was the biggest question facing the home team Saturday night inside the Arena-Auditorium with the Cowboys coming off their first loss of the season last week against the No. 8 team in the nation.
That 94-65 road setback at Arizona was an eye-opener. For long stretches, it was as lopsided as the score would suggest.
Wyoming fell short in nearly every major statistical category that night in the desert.
How would they respond?
Xavier DuSell hit four triples and led the Cowboys with 16 points and four of his buddies also reached double figures in a 74-62 victory over Utah Valley. The win gives Wyoming nine of those in the first 10 games of the 2021-22 season.
It didn't come without its gut-check moments, either.
With 12:10 remaining in the second half, UVU guard Asa McCord found the bottom of the net to give the Wolverines a 45-44 lead, silencing the 3,900-plus in attendance. The visitors erased a 12-point halftime deficit in less than eight minutes.
How would the Cowboys respond?
Hunter Maldonado -- the heart and soul of this team -- went to work. Watch this masterful performance in the paint:
Though the Cowboys would once again find themselves trailing moments later, Drake Jeffries drilled a step-back jumper from beyond the arc to regain the lead, 53-52.
Wyoming never trailed again.
The next four UW buckets came from deep. Jeffries added two. DuSell hit his fourth of the night and Utah transfer Brendan Wenzel found the bottom of the net to push the late lead to nine.
When the dust settled, it was the Cowboys who were on the plus side in the box score:
* Rebounds: 31-28
* Turnovers: 11-5
* Points off turnovers: 16-7
* Assists: 11-10
* Steals: 7-2
And, of course, the most important stat of all -- another "W" in the left-hand column.
So, what did the guys think of their response in this one?
"I think how we came back tonight was a true testament to how we've stay together all year," said Jeffries, who finished with 15 points and six boards. "After a tough loss to Arizona, I mean, those dudes are the real deal there. They are legit: big, strong, athletic. I think just by staying together, you know, it was big on our part."
The head man agreed wholeheartedly.
"The sign of a good team is a team that just sticks together," Linder said. "And knowing that, you know, we just had to find a way to get get the necessary stops... Give our guys credit for making plays and making shots. I mean, we got some open looks and we knocked them down."
Wyoming is now 9-1 and facing an 11-day layoff before a meeting with Stanford in the opening round of the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii. Utah Valley has now dropped two straight and sits at 7-3 overall.
* Linder had a message written on the white board before the game. It served as an important reminder. During his postgame interview, he shared those words with you. It read: "We're 8-1." Why is that important? "Sometimes you lose sight of that after you lose a game after you've won eight in a row," Linder continued. "And knowing too that you probably might have lost to the No. 1-ranked team in the country. That's how good they are." Wyoming refused to turn one loss into two. That was the rallying cry all week.
* Fardaws Aimaq is a bad man. Utah Valley's 6-foot-11, 245-pound center entered Saturday night as one of the top scorers in the nation, averaging more than 20 points per outing. He has recorded eight straight double-doubles. Linder knew Graham Ike had his work cut out for him in this one. Especially after the Cowboys allowed the Canadian to score 27 and pull down 20 rebounds in last year's meeting in Orem, a game Ike didn't play in. Yes, Aimaq once again scored in double figures. He finished with 14 in the loss. But it was his lack of production on the glass that stuck out to Linder. "Fardaws hasn't had a night like that in two years where he's had 14 (points) and five (rebounds) and only one offensive rebound," he said. In the Wolverines two previous losses this season, they were out boarded on the offensive glass. Linder said that was a key tonight. UW won that, 11-8. "Graham really did an unbelievable job on him," Jeffries added. "Held him to probably the worst game of his career."
* Interstate 25 and Interstate 80 were closed for a majority of the day due to howling winds and drifting snow. Same can be said about Highway 287 from Colorado. That, of course, led to plenty of accidents. It also limited the number of fans who could make it to Laramie for this big matchup. Still, more than 3,900 were in attendance, including a raucous student section. "I would like to say a big, big thank you," Linder said, referring to the crowd inside the A-A. "... A big shout out to the students section. They played a huge part in that game. I mean, just the energy they brought. I thought it might end up being like going to Utah Valley last year, almost like a COVID game. I was worried there would be about 200 people in the stands. But you know, thankfully the people of Wyoming, they're tough enough and they understand, you know, they're not scared of the weather."
* Wenzel's minutes are starting to rise. So is his production. His 12 points, a career high, were huge and timely, but it was a charge at the 4:00 mark and a subsequent 3-pointer at the other end of the floor that awarded the Texas product arguably the play of the game. "Man, it was big, it was big," Wenzel said. "... So, taking that charge, I thought it really brought energy to the whole gym -- to us. We work on that stuff all the time. We know the good habits that we have, we need to make plays like that. That's what we do." Wenzel was 3-5 from the floor and drilled a pair of triples in the win.
* For just the second time this season, five Cowboys finished with double-digit scoring, including that dozen off the bench from Wenzel. That's a great thing, however, Wyoming's other three bench players who saw time -- Deng Dut, Hunter Thompson and Kenny Foster -- combined for zero points and just three rebounds. UVU's bench outscored the Pokes, 22-12. Tonight, that didn't hurt them. In the future, it could. Dut played just two minutes. Thompson, five. Foster, who is still making his way back from a high ankle sprain played nine. That's a sample size, but imagine the lift these guys could provide in a key situation on the islands?
* Wyoming turned the ball over just five times in the win over the Wolverines. That is a season low. In fact, the last time the Cowboys were less generous was in the opening round of last season's Mountain West Tournament. You might recall that 111-80 rout of San Jose State in Las Vegas. UW turned it over just four times that day. Linder isn't surprised that his youthful squad takes such good care of the basketball. I guess we shouldn't be, either.
* So long to home non-conference games in 2021. Wyoming won all six games and Linder is now 10-1 at home and currently on a nine-game winning streak. The next time the Pokes play in the dome will be on New Year's Day against Boise State. A successful trip to the Hawaii, plus good weather, could lead to the biggest crowd of the season.
* At the 8:00 mark, Linder said he challenged his team to land some "kills." Linder uses that word often. That means three defensive stops in a row. The Cowboys managed just one of those, but more importantly, they started to score on consecutive trips down the floor. UW made 5-of-6 shots during one stretch, turning a 49-48 deficit into a 61-55 lead in a matter of 2:30. That was a huge momentum swing in this one.
* Stanford, Wyoming's next opponent, is currently just 4-3 on the season. The Cardinal still has two games remaining on its schedule before it tangles with the Pokes in Hawaii on Dec. 22. That's a home meeting with fellow smart-kid school Dartmouth and a date with No. 7 Texas. Stanford's leading scorer is Harrison Ingram. The forward averages 12 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. He has scored in double figures four times this season. After Stanford, UW will face either Liberty or Northern Iowa. South Florida, Hawaii, Vanderbilt and rival BYU are also in the bracket. Wouldn't that be something if the Pokes and Cougars met with a tournament title on the line? One can hope.
* Wyoming's scoring leaders against UVU: DuSell 16, Jeffries 15, Ike 13, Wenzel 12, Maldonado 10, Jeremiah Oden 8
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