Tucker’s 10 takes: Learn from this one, move on
LARAMIE -- Jeff Linder's plan Wednesday night in Tucson was to not reinvent the wheel.
In other words, he wasn't changing anything. Wyoming didn't get to 8-0 on accident.
The Cowboys' second-year head coach didn't expect Tommy Lloyd's squad to change things up either. Arizona is the eighth-ranked team in the nation. His team is known for scoring in bunches and doing it with break-neck speed.
Linder was right, the 'Cats didn't do anything different. They were very much their dominant selves.
Unfortunately for the visitors, all they did was add to their already impressive repertoire by tossing a deep game into the mix.
Kerr Kriisa hit a career-high five triples and his buddies added six more to lift Arizona to a 94-65 victory inside McKale Center. The Wildcats shot 53% from the field and outrebounded the Cowboys, 42-27.
"I wasn't expecting it because, I mean, that's the one thing when you look at the numbers and you watch them on film, you kind of have to pick your poison," Linder said postgame, referring to the Wildcats' success from beyond the arc. "The one thing they had not done really well was shoot the ball from the three. They have a lot of guys who are capable of making shots, but from a percentage standpoint ... give them credit."
Arizona entered this game ranked No. 203 in the country in made 3-pointers with just 59 through seven games. There's a good reason for that -- the Wildcats just don't attempt that many. Before this outburst, Lloyd's crew attempted just 179. Tonight, that number went up by 28.
For comparison sake, UW put up 200 before this one. The Cowboys connected on 76 of those.
The Wildcats stunned the Pokes from deep, but this was as balanced an effort as you will see. Four Arizona players finished in double figures, including reining PAC 12 Player of the Week, Bennedict Mathurin, who finished with a game-high 24 points to go along with 10 rebounds, five assists and just a single turnover.
The Cowboys were outscored 52-26 in the paint. Fastbreak points -- the Wildcats' specialty -- were 16-3 in favor of the home team. Arizona turned 14 UW turnovers into 19 points.
"There's not very many teams like that in the country that can just come at you at that type of pace, just with their size and athleticism," Linder said. "... We just ran into a really good team on their home court, and sometimes, you know what, good teams get their butt kicked and that's what happened.
"But we're still a good team, and we're going to continue to grow."
Arizona native Xavier DuSell led the Pokes with 22 points on 6-of-12 shooting from beyond the arc. Graham Ike poured in 17. He connected on all five of his free-throw shots. Drake Jeffries finished with eight points and hit a pair of threes.
Wyoming actually outscored the Wildcats 43-41 in the second half.
"We have to figure out how we're going to respond, and that ultimately boils down to what our response can be," Linder said. "Can we learn from this to where, you know, we continue to grow and get better?
"... I thought our guys did a good job of sticking together."
* Leading 45-22 late in the first half, Hunter Maldonado dribbled the ball off an Arizona defender. The ball ricocheted back into UW's zone. Before the redshirt sophomore could reel it in, Krissa and Dalen Terry flew in and dove onto the floor, attempting to corral the loose change. It ended in a tie up. The possession went to Wyoming. That was the definition of a winning play, something Linder always talks about with his guys. Krissa didn't need to dive for that. Earlier in the period he limped off the court with an ankle injury. The 'Cats were rolling on the scoreboard. None of that mattered. Effort like that is special.
* If Arizona plays half as well as it did in the first half Wednesday, that team is headed straight for a top-two seed in the NCAA tournament. They have it all: size, speed, scoring -- inside and out -- and lockdown defense. Sure, Wyoming won't be their toughest opponent this season, but the Cowboys certainly won't be the worst. The Wildcats connected on 20-of-35 shots (57%) through the first 20 minutes. They were 7-of-15 from deep. They outrebounded the Pokes, 22-13. This team is legit. "As I told our guys afterwards, I mean, there's been a lot of really good teams that have come in here throughout the course of the history of this place and gotten beaten up pretty good," Linder said.
* As impressive as that U of A team is on offense, it was the defense that put the Pokes in the vice grip. Ike was under siege the majority of the night. Azuolas Tubelis and Christian Koloko -- both 7-footers -- made it rough on the Pokes' big man, but he still made plays. We'll get to that in a minute. Maldonado wasn't able to back anyone down in the lane like he's done through the first eight games. DuSell and Jeffries didn't have many open looks, either, especially in the first half. The duo netted just seven combined points. This was a clinic in all phases.
* This game was ugly. Linder's guys probably won't revert to this film much, but the experience is truly invaluable. Obviously you would rather learn while winning, but that can't always be the case. The Pokes will see nothing resembling this Arizona buzz saw again this season. Colorado State, yeah, that's a good team. So is San Diego State, Fresno State and Utah State. Not this good. Not even close. "Credit to them, they are the ones that forced it," Linder said, referring to the Cowboys struggles on the offensive side of the ball. "In the long run, it'll be good for guys to experience that because I'm not sure if we'll see a team like that terms of their length and athleticism, and just their ability to close gaps." They won't.
* Ike can play with anyone. Yes, Arizona clogged up the paint throughout the night. They doubled the Aurora, Colorado, product after he sank the first shot of the night. That bucket gave Wyoming its first and only lead. It lasted all of 12 seconds. Still, Ike showed he can play with the big boys. Even when he was trapped, he made the passes. He forced guys off their feet, drew fouls and finished with 17 points. Arizona was keying on him yet he continued to made plays. That kid continues to be impressive. "I think what you saw is the respect that they have, in terms of, you know, they double-teamed him every time he touched it," Linder said. "He's seen that all year, but when you got some bigger guys coming to you, I thought he handled that well." Linder added that Ike will be in Laramie tomorrow morning -- early -- watching film and shooting hoops inside the Arena-Auditorium.
* The Pac-12 television announcer said Wyoming is a "veteran" group. That's not true -- there isn't a single senior on the roster -- and that's not a bad thing. Maldonado and Thompson are the "old men" on this squad. Consider this, that was Ike's 21st college game. DuSell, Jeffries and Oden have played a few more. This team is still one of the youngest in the country. Linder likes to say old teams win. It's because they went through growing pains like this.
* Arizona has already beaten three teams this year by 45-plus points. Wyoming's strong second-half effort kept it at three. Linder said he was impressed with the way his team stuck together and didn't quit. He's right. Not only did that show up on the scoreboard, the Cowboys started looking a bit more like the team that started the season 8-0. That was an encouraging sign on a rough night in the desert.
* Linder has praised his team all season for being mature beyond their years. Against the Wildcats, he admitted his team "panicked" a bit as the home team's lead swelled in the first half, leading to turnovers and poor shot selections, something we haven't seen from this program this fall. "When you get down that much, that early, you start kind of panicking a little bit," he said. "I thought that we did panic just a little bit." That's bound to happen when you're facing one of the best teams in America in front of 14,000 fans. Experience. That's the main takeaway from this one.
* Wyoming can't let this loss turn into two. That's the message Linder is sending his team with Utah Valley paying a visit to Laramie Saturday night. The Wolverines feature a 6-foot-11, 245-pound forward, Fardaws Aimaq, who is averaging 20.8 points a night. UVU is 7-2 and last week knocked off No. 12 BYU in Orem. "We know we have a good opponent coming in here on Saturday and they're going to get our full attention," Linder said. "... (Arizona) is one of those games where you kind of have to just say, 'hey, man, it happens. Let's move on.'" Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.
* Wyoming's scoring in Tucson: DuSell 22 points, Ike 16, Jeffries 8, Jeremiah Oden 7, Maldonado 6, Hunter Thompson 3, Kenny Foster 2