Tuck’s 10 takes: Maldo’s demise greatly exaggerated
LARAMIE -- You didn't really think Hunter Maldonado was all of a sudden some mediocre player did you?
Sure, he struggled -- mightily -- in Tuesday night's loss at New Mexico, hitting just 2-of-12 shots and finishing with a season-low nine points. To make matters worse, Maldonado turned the ball over eight times in that setback in Albuquerque.
That was an aberration. But you already knew that.
Air Force certainly did.
But just in case the Cadets forgot, he poured in a game-high 29 points in a 75-67 victory in front of a season-best 8,312 fans inside a raucous Arena-Auditorium Saturday afternoon in Laramie.
Think Joe Scott and the Falcons are sick of seeing No. 24?
Consider this, in the two meetings this season, Maldonado, a Colorado Springs native, has scored 64 points, including a back-breaking buzzer-beater in late January inside Clune Arena. You can also tack on 12 rebounds and a dozen assists, including eight today.
Maldonado insists there's no chip on his shoulder when he faces his hometown team. That was the furthest thing on his mind, in fact.
"I really wasn't worried about that today," he said. "I think throughout history I've played pretty well against them, but today it was more just bouncing back from New Mexico. Obviously, I didn't do very well. Too many turnovers, didn't hit enough shots. So, today was more trying to make sure I get everyone involved and let the game come to me."
Graham Ike, who netted 27 points on a perfect 11-for-11 night from the field, has another theory for what his buddy pulled off against the Falcons.
"He's just doing what Maldo does," Ike said with a wide grin. "9-for-17 for him, you know, just making those easy plays and making those shots. The last game he just missed some tough ones. That's uncharacteristic of him. We know he still leads the team at a high level. He still comes through and plays hard for us. That exceeds all the missed shots, you know?"
Maldonado, who averages 19.2 points and six-plus assists per night, put his stamp on this one with 7:13 remaining in the second frame.
Air Force's Lucan Moerman -- all 6-foot-10 of him -- was backing down 6-foot-4 Xavier DuSell on the block. UW's redshirt junior snuck behind the Falcons' big man and stole the ball on the dribble. With AJ Walker bearing down, Maldonado went in for the coast-to-coast layup, drew contact and sank the bucket.
A three-point contest went to six in the blink of an eye.
"I thought Maldo's steal that led to an and-one -- that was a huge play," Wyoming's second-year head coach Jeff Linder said. "That was a big time winning play and that's the difference between winning and losing."
Wyoming moves to 22-4 overall and 11-2 in Mountain West play, keeping pace with Boise State atop the league standings with just five games remaining in the regular season.
You may have heard ... There's a big one coming up. We'll get to that in a minute.
Here are a few other tidbits and takeaways from the Pokes big win in Laramie:
* For the 19th time this season, Wyoming eclipsed the 70-point mark? For the 19th time, the Cowboys won. Safe to say that's the magic number? It sure appears to be.
* Like they are known to do, the Cowboys got to the line today -- a bunch. Wyoming attempted 26 free throws, sinking 22 of those, while the visitors shot just nine. This team is at its best when it's getting to the charity stripe, especially Ike, who averages 28-to-32 offensive possessions per outing, the most in the country. Ike was 5-of-7 in that category against Air Force.
* As much as Air Force doesn't want to see Maldonado and Ike again, UW guards are probably fed up with facing the Falcons, especially when it comes to their 3-point defense. In two meetings this season, Wyoming has hit just five threes on 33 attempts. That's not even Air Force's strong suit. Not by a long shot. Scott's bunch is allowing opposing teams to connect on 32.2%. Today, the Cowboys hit just 18% (3-of-17). "We just got to get some of those other guys (going)," Linder said, referring to Drake Jeffries, Brendan Wenzel and Xavier DuSell. "You know, it's not from a lack of putting in the time or the lack of quality (shots). Our 3-point shooters are getting great looks. It's just sometimes the ball doesn't go in."
* Speaking of not going in. Wyoming still isn't getting near enough offensive production from its role players. Yes, they missed some quality shots tonight. Yes, they still made some winning plays, including a late offensive rebound from Wenzel that led to points and got the Cowboys rolling. Still, against teams like, say, Colorado State, these guys need to score. Oden is way too talented to have just two points. DuSell, as you know, has more than five points in his holster. Same can be said for Jeffries and Wenzel, who combined for a dozen after netting just three in the first half. These shots have to start falling soon, right? Wednesday would be the ideal time for that.
* Moerman was on a mission in this one. After being held to just three points in the first meeting with the Pokes, Air Force's big man netted a team-high 15 before fouling out with 2:07 to go. The Falcons' center stepped back on Ike and drilled three uncontested triples while going 6-of-7 from the field. He also snagged six rebounds. No wonder Linder wanted Moerman to join him in Greeley. "I love Lucas Mormon," Linder said with a grin. "I recruited him at UNC and tried to convince him that we could figure out a way for him to be an aeronautical engineer at UNC. But then, at the last minute, Air Force jumped in. They probably have a little bit of a different aeronautical engineering degree program than what UNC did."
* Walker might be the best player in the Mountain West that no one talks about. Linder calls the Falcons' guard an "old school" type of player. Today in Laramie, Walker hit 7-of-19 shots and finished with 14 points. He got most of them the hard way, too. In the paint, ducking and dodging Ike. "He's a really good player and he just continues to get better," Linder said earlier in the week. "I think what he does defensively, I mean, he's really tough and he's got really good hands. A lot of times he gets switched with what they're doing in the ball-screen coverages. He gets put on the post a lot and does a really good job fighting with his feet." Air Force's current seven-game losing streak certainly isn't on Walker. He has averaged better than 15 points per game.
* Before Air Force watched Maldonado run the length of the court and go high off the glass for a buzzer-beating lay in late January, the Falcons were giving up just over 67 points per game. Since that heartbreaker inside Clune Arena, Scott's team has taken a nosedive, allowing more than 80 points per outing during its current seven-game losing skid. I asked Linder why earlier in the week. He credits the level of competition week in and week out. The stats say the visitors were much stingier today. The Cowboys aided in that with a ton of missed shots on open looks.
* "Inexcusable" was the word Linder used to describe a much smaller Air Force squad out-rebounding the Pokes on the offensive glass, 5-3, in the first half. The Falcons finished with 11. Wyoming ultimately fell in that battle but won the overall battle of the boards, 32-28. That gap needs to widen with some of the top rebounding teams in the conference on the horizon.
* CSU and a sold out Moby Arena awaits the Cowboys Wednesday night in Fort Collins. Names like Eric Leckner, Reggie Fox and Turk Boyd come to mind when I think about all-time classics in Border War history. Josh Adams and Josh Davis certainly had no love loss for the Rams, either. This is shaping up to be a huge one. The winner will control its own destiny with just a handful of games remaining on the regular-season slate. Buckle up. This could be a classic. "You know, I'm really looking forward to it like I look forward to every game," said Ike, obviously underplaying the significance of Wednesday's matchup. "It's just another day to get better, another day to play another great team and another day to compete with my team, you know, at a high level." Maldonado wouldn't take the bait, either. "It's sold out and it's going to be energetic and a very fun game," he said. "But right now, obviously, we have to look at tomorrow, look at this film and get better. We need to look at what we did against them last time because they're not the same team we played last time."
* Wyoming scorers: Maldonado 29, Ike 27, Jeffries 7, DuSell 5, Wenzel 4, Oden 2, Hunter Thompson 1
* Mountain West standings (at time of publishing)
No. 22 Wyoming: 22-4, 11-2
Boise State: 20-6, 11-2
Colorado State: 21-3, 11-3
San Diego State: 16-6, 8-3
UNLV: 15-11, 7-6
Fresno State: 16-9, 6-6
Utah State: 15-12, 6-8
Nevada: 12-13, 6-8
New Mexico: 11-15, 3-9
Air Force: 10-15, 3-11
San Jose State: 7-19, 0-14
Just The Facts: Size Doesn't Matter For Wyoming's War Memorial Stadium
- Just The Facts: Size Doesn't Matter For Wyoming's War Memorial Stadium