Tuck’s 10 takes: No Ike? No sweat. This team has multiple weapons
LARAMIE -- No Graham Ike? No problem.
With the Cowboys playing their third game in five nights, Jeff Linder gave the big man a much-deserved night off with sputtering Spartans in town for a snowy midweek showdown.
Ike's right knee experienced some swelling and soreness earlier in the day. This one wasn't worth it.
San Jose State netted its first eight points of the night in the Ike-vacated paint area, but the visitors couldn't account for the shooting display Drake Jeffries and his buddies put on from the outside in a 84-69 victory.
Jeffries, the fifth-leading three-point shooter in the nation (49.5%), sank five of those -- all in the first half -- and the Cowboys finished the night 13-of-26 from deep.
Wyoming is now 14-2 overall and 3-0 in Mountain West play.
The last time the Cowboys won their first three league games came during the 2014-15 season. Larry Shyatt's NCAA Tournament bound squad won its first four conference contests.
Linder's gang is also now 13-0 when scoring 70-plus points this season.
"It was just a gutsy effort from our guys," Linder said. "I knew it wasn't going to be easy ... We have 11 scholarship players that are able to play and we had eight tonight."
It wasn't always pretty with the Pokes missing Ike, the Mountain West's leading scorer, and shooting guard Xavier DuSell (hamstring). SJSU closed the first half on a 7-0 run and added another one in the opening minutes of the second half to eventually ties the game at 52-52.
At the 12:28 mark, though, a game that was briefly in doubt turned out the way 4,300-plus inside the Arena-Auditorium planned on. Led by a balanced effort from Hunter Maldonado, Brendan Wenzel, Noah Reynolds and Jeremiah Oden, the Cowboys rolled off a 29-14 run to close this one out.
Maldonado netted a game-high 20 points and Jeffries and Wenzel both finished with 15. Oden chipped in with 14 and hammered home three dunks in the win.
Here are some other things that stood out in the Cowboys 14th victory of the season:
* Before tipoff, a UW spokesperson announced Ike was doubtful in this one. There was no explanation, sending the world wide web into a frenzy of speculation. Rightfully so. The 6-foot-9 freshman is arguably the best player in the league. Take a deep breath, Cowboys fans. He's going to be OK. "He banged his knee on the floor (at Nevada) -- the same knee that he had surgically repaired a year ago -- and it just started bothering him today," Linder said. "... His future's too bright with basketball to where we want to put him in harms way. I told him, 'Hey, it's your decision. You know what your body feels like and you know we'll support you anyway.' At the end of the day, that's what we're here to do. My job is to protect him for the rest of his his playing career and making sure that that's right." Linder said it was precautionary and he hopes to have Ike back in the lineup Saturday against New Mexico. There is still no timetable for DuSell's return to action, though Linder said his strained hamstring is getting better. A UW spokesperson said sophomore guard Kenny Foster is dealing with a bout of mononucleosis and could return by the weekend.
* Tonight, we got a glimpse of what this team looks like without Ike. Some really good. Some not. The Cowboys shot 58% from the field in a game they knew would be moved to more of an outside game. Jeffries responded with five straight triples and Reynolds went 3-of-3 from deep. Though UW did outscore SJSU 32-30 in the paint, early on, it was all Spartans.
* How much did fatigue play a factor in SJSU's comeback tonight? Maldonado was quick to squash that narrative. "Like always, there's no excuses," the redshirt junior said. "I think we just had a mental lapse and, games like this that are back to back to back, we have to find ways to make sure we don't have those mental lapses because teams like Boise State and CSU, at the top of the conference, will make you pay. San Jose State made us pay and came all the way back."
* Linder was a little more realistic when it came to this taxing schedule that has been upended due to COVID-19 postponements. Well, sort of. "I mean, there's probably going to be a little bit of fatigue, considering we had a short bench," he said. "So some guys had to play through some tired legs, but you know what, that's every (team). As we start making our way through this time of year. All it is is an excuse. That's why we prepare ourselves. It's why we do what we do in the summertime. It's what we do in the fall."
* We like to talk about the "middle eight" in football. That means the last four minutes before halftime and the first four minutes of the second half. That's when the Spartans made hay in this one. Led by Trey Anderson, Shon Robinson and Omari Moore, SJSU outscored the Cowboys, 26-11. Give these guys credit. Despite going down 17 in a hurry, they battled. "I got a lot of respect for coach (Tim) Miles and what he's done thus far at San Jose State," Linder said. "I knew they were going to come in here and give us their best punch."
* After UW's 77-67 victory over Nevada Monday night in Reno, Linder said Reynolds is the most confident freshman he's coached since Derrick Marks, the 2015 Mountain West Player of the Year at Boise State. The freshman from Peoria, Illinois, netted seven in that win over the Wolf Pack just 24 hours after being cleared from COVID-19 protocol. How has the transition been going for him at this level? "I mean, I've just been happy to be here," he said. "Out of high school I had zero Division-I offers and one Division-2 offer. So, the fact that I'm here in Wyoming is truly a blessing. Every day I've just been trying to learn from guys like Maldo and coach Linder. I knew eventually, the college basketball season for so long, so I knew I'd get my shot." Wyoming appears to have a steal with this kid.
* I'm sitting here on press row typing this column. On the court, a shirtless Eoin Nelson turned on some tunes and is working on his post moves by all by himself at 10 p.m. on a Wednesday. Nelson, the junior forward from Dublin, Ireland, played just two minutes against the Spartans. He finished with all zeros on his stat line aside from a personal foul. Who doesn't love to see stuff like this though? Last year, after Jeffries missed a big three in a heartbreaking loss to Border War rival, Colorado State, he did the same thing. He probably shot 200 from deep. That's paying big dividends right now. Maybe we'll say the same thing about Nelson one day.
* Maldonado's 10 first-half assists tonight set a new school record. He finished with 12. No other Cowboy had more than one. The Colorado Springs native, in my opinion, has been often overlooked as one of the great players to come through this program. Quietly, this guy has gone through major injuries, a coaching change, a position change, losing and everything in between. He will never be a "look-at-me" type of player, and that's not a bad thing. Just hope you appreciate him while he's here. The guy is special.
* Wenzel was once again a bright spot for this UW team in this win. We shouldn't be all that surprised. Look, the guy didn't go to a Power-5 program out of high school on accident. The Texas product scored a career-high 15 points and was a perfect 5-for-5 from the field and made both of his threes. Wenzel is a legit threat off the bench and starting in place of DuSell. What a commodity to have. According to Maldonado, it's simply a team mentality. "I think it just shows how deep we are," he said. "Everyone's ready to answer the bell. It just shows how much work we put in since the summer. Any guy is ready to go so if someone does come out and is not ready to play that day. We have the next-guy-up mentality that they can come in and we won't miss a beat." They proved that in the last two outings.
* Wyoming scoring: Maldonado 20, Wenzel 15, Jeffries 15, Oden 14, Reynolds 14, Hunter Thompson 6
* Wyoming will host New Mexico Saturday inside the Arena-Auditorium. Tip time is set for 5:30 p.m. and the game will be televised by CBS Sports Network.
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