Tuck’s 10 takes: Wyoming’s ‘Big Two’ back on track
LARAMIE -- That looked ... normal.
Graham Ike was back to bashing away on the block, spinning and sinking bunnies in the paint and taking plenty of uncontested shots from the charity stripe. Hunter Maldonado was backing down much-smaller guards, making acrobatic shots and driving the lane.
Both were back above the 20-point mark, too.
Ike netted a game-high 23 and Maldonado added 22 after a forgettable performance in Fort Collins last Wednesday that saw the leading scoring duo in the nation held to just 12 combined points.
The score today also looked, well, normal:
There wasn't exactly a come-to-Jesus moment for this team after the loss at Colorado State, but Jeff Linder admitted it was one that could've lingered.
"I thought that, you know, we could definitely overreact," Wyoming's second-year head coach said, referring to the Cowboys 61-55 loss to the Rams. "... I challenged Graham after the CSU game. I told him to focus more on what really matters, not getting caught up in the things that he can't control. I thought he did a really good job of that."
Ike was 8-of-15 from the floor and added 15 rebounds. Maldonado dished out six assists and pulled down nine boards.
So what was Maldonado's goal heading into this must-win with Nevada after netting a season-low four points inside Moby Arena?
"Just go out there and worry more about us, I think," he said. "Just go out there and stick to our habits. Just doing us, sticking to our habits and going out there and imposing our will."
How about the big man?
"You know, it was good to see the ball go in," Ike said with a smile. "I was trying to take my time down there and trying to read the defense."
About that challenge from his head coach? Ike said it was more about not letting one off night snowball into something much worse.
"You know, a loss hurts," he said. "That doesn't happen too much for us, so it feels like a big thing when we lose. We just can't get spread apart. We just want to stay connected and just be together."
There were no complaints about the Cowboys' defense at CSU. They held the Rams to just 38.9% shooting from the field.
Tonight, they were even better, holding Grant Sherfield and Desmond Cambridge to just 12 points each. Those two average more than 17 points per night. The Wolf Pack drained just 22-of-60 shots (37%).
"It was a team effort," Linder said.
"We just continue to get better," Maldonado added, speaking about the defensive effort. "If we get it done on that end we know the offense will take care of itself."
With the win, Wyoming moves to 23-5 overall and 12-3 in Mountain West play with just three regular-season games remaining.
Here are some other tidbits and takeaways from Saturday's win over Nevada:
* Maldonado needed just eight points today to enter the Top 10 all-time in career scoring at Wyoming. He now has 1,612 points. The redshirt junior from Colorado Springs also surpassed Brandon Ewing to take over sole possession of second place in assists in school history. He needed five to tie Ewing at 466. He dished out six. Sean Dent is the leader in that category with 502. Dent also holds the single-season record for assists with 183 during the 1986-87 campaign. Maldonado currently has 166.
* Linder emptied his bench early in this one. And, for once, it didn't have much to do with foul trouble. All five starters -- Ike, Maldonado, Jeremiah Oden, Xavier DuSell and Drake Jeffries -- all finished with at least eight points. Still, Noah Reynolds played 16:42 and Brendan Wenzel was on the floor for 6:45. "We need those two guys and their minutes, their ability to play off the bounce and to play off the ball screen to take some of the pressure off of a Maldo and Graham," Linder said, adding that he inserted DuSell into the starting lineup for the first time since Jan. 15 to change things up offensively, not because of anything Wenzel did. "Those guys played well." Hunter Thompson also saw 3:37 of playing time.
* Home sweet home. The Cowboys are now 13-0 on their home floor this season. Technically, they have won their last 14 inside the Arena-Auditorium, making this the ninth-longest home winning streak in school history and the longest since UW joined the Mountain West in 1999. An announced attendance of 7,855 were on hand tonight. The Pokes still have two games remaining in Laramie.
* Boy, did Nevada miss Cambridge against rival UNLV last week. The senior from Tennessee, who is dealing with a rib injury, netted 12 in this one and hit a pair of 3-pointers. Cambridge is second in the Mountain West in triples made (78), behind only Jeffries (80). DuSell and his buddies held Cambridge to just one bucket over the final 20 minutes.
* Linder said Kenny Foster could be in search of a medical redshirt after dealing with a high-ankle sprain and a number of illnesses this season that has limited him to just parts of nine games. Today, he was suited up and joined his teammates from pregame warmups. He did not enter the game.
* When Wyoming hits the 70-point mark it is now 20-0 on the season. That was a cool stat when it reached double digits, now it's becoming a real thing. That number means really good things for the Cowboys.
* Nevada owes a big thank you to New Mexico this season. Why? Because if it wasn't for the Lobos, Steve Alford's team would have the worst defense in the Mountain West. The Wolf Pack are giving up nearly 74 points per game and have allowed opponents to drain triples at an alarming rate -- nearly 10 per game. Wyoming, of course, scored 74 and hit nine threes.
* Linder likes to say the Cowboys have played an NBA schedule this season. In other words: lots of games, not a lot of time in between. Yes, Wyoming has had plenty of streaks like that after COVID-19 gave the team an unexpected 40-plus day break to begin the of the conference schedule, but there's no bigger slate of games than the next three in seven days. In search of the first regular-season conference championship since 2002, UW will host San Diego State in less than 48 hours, travel to Las Vegas to take on the red-hot Rebels Wednesday night inside the Thomas & Mack Center before capping things with a home date against Fresno State next Saturday. In other words, folks, it's crunch time. A flurry of games, according to Ike, will also have the Pokes ready for tournament play in Las Vegas and beyond. "We need to win each day and not get ahead of ourselves and look forward to any other games," he said. "We need to look forward to each day, go one day at a time and just keep progressing as a team."
* Hey, do you enjoy rooting against Wyoming's rivals? Sure you do. Tonight is your big chance. By the time you are reading this, Colorado State and Utah State are underway in Logan. Top-ranked Boise State is currently playing in Sin City. You might have guessed, UW needs the Rebels to lend a hand. The Aggies can play spoiler and add a cherry on top of your college basketball viewing day. Depending on hos next week shakes out, you might have to pull for the Rams. Yes, them. We'll all have to wait and see. Linder, however, isn't rushing home to get in front of the television. "Hope isn't a strategy," he said with a grin. "Hoping that the other team loses, hoping the other team misses shots, I mean, that's not how you get to where you need to get. We have to go out, we have to earn it and we have to go out and make the other team miss shots. We have to make our own way." He did add that it would be OK if Boise State and CSU lose, though.
* Wyoming scorers: Ike 23, Maldonado 22, Oden 10, Jeffries 8, DuSell 8, Reynolds 3
* Mountain West Conference men's basketball standings:
Boise State: 22-6, 13-2
Wyoming: 23-5, 12-3
Colorado State: 22-4, 12-4
San Diego State: 18-7, 10-4
UNLV: 17-11, 9-6
Fresno State: 17-10, 7-7
Utah State: 16-13, 7-9
Nevada: 12-15, 6-10
New Mexico: 12-17, 4-11
Air Force: 10-17, 3-13
San Jose State: 8-20, 1-15
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