Tuck’s 10 takes: You wanted a blowout, you got it
SAN JOSE, Calif., -- You weren't the only one who wanted to see a Wyoming blowout tonight.
"It would be nice just one time to be up 15 -- or in the case of Arizona and Gonzaga -- up 30 with about five minutes left," Jeff Linder joked during his weekly press conference. "You can kind of sit back and relax. But that's just not the reality of us. It's not the reality of our league."
That statement is typically true. That is unless you're playing San Jose State.
Wyoming won its sixth straight, knocking off the floundering Spartans 74-52 Saturday night in front of a sparse crowd inside the Provident Credit Union Arena.
SJSU (7-17, 0-12), which sits all alone in the cellar of the Mountain West Conference, dropped its 12th consecutive game. The Cowboys (21-3, 10-1) remain tied atop the league standings with Boise State with just seven regular-season games left on the schedule.
"It definitely felt a little bit better," Linder said of playing in a lopsided affair instead of the nail-biters the Cowboys have grown so accustomed to over the last two weeks. "I mean, I put my play card in my pocket at about the three-minute mark."
Wyoming's second-year head coach knew his team would have to bring its own juice in this one, playing in front of a COVID-like atmosphere in the Bay Area. Early on, the Cowboys appeared to be sleepwalking through the first 18-plus minutes, allowing the Spartans to get hot from deep and at one point take a four-point lead.
A pair of 7-0 runs took care of that.
Surprise, surprise Graham Ike also quickly put to rest any thought of an upset in this one, netting 11 straight points for the visitors to begin the second half and finishing with a game-high 25 on 9-of-18 shooting. For good measure, the freshman also pulled down a season-best 18 rebounds.
The Spartans had just 25 as a team.
His running mate, Hunter Maldonado, chipped in with 23 and Xavier DuSell added nine, sinking 3-of-7 from beyond the arc. Maldonado suffered a "tweaked ankle" in Tuesday night's win over Utah State in Laramie. He showed no ill effects of that tonight.
That, of course, has come to be expected this season. Ike and Maldonado are the No. 1 scoring duo in the country. A bright spot in this one though was the contributions from guys like Brendan Wenzel, Jeremiah Oden and DuSell, who combined for 22 points, 13 boards and just four turnovers.
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The offensive production was nice, especially over the final 20 minutes, but Linder praised the effort on the defensive end of the floor where the Cowboys held SJSU to just 27.3% shooting from the field.
"I knew for us to do what we did, it was going to be on the defensive side of the floor," Linder said. "I just thought we did a really good job. I mean, look at the final numbers. For us to hold them under 30% on their home floor, that's how you win a game on the road by 22."
Yeah, that and ...
"We just challenged Graham to fight for some deeper position and just impose his will on the game," he continued. "Obviously -- thankfully -- he listened and just dominated the second half in terms of not just from an offensive standpoint and scoring, but also rebounding."
The Cowboys will stay the night in San Jose and fly to Albuquerque in the morning. Wyoming will take on New Mexico Tuesday night inside The Pit. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m.
Here are some more interesting tidbits and takeaways from UW's win in San Jose:
* Las Vegas oddsmakers had the Cowboys as 15.5-point favorites in this one. Wyoming, obviously, took care of that with ease. Does that mean this team will finally crack the Top 25 on Monday? This performance certainly didn't hurt their case. Neither did losses Saturday by No. 22 Saint Mary's, No. 20 Texas, No. 18 Marquette and No. 14 Wisconsin. UW hasn't been ranked since January of 2015. The Pokes spent just a week at No. 25, falling to San Diego State 60-52 in Laramie. Wyoming also spent a week in the Top 25 late in the 2013 season. It lost at home to Boise State, 63-61.
* Linder gave SJSU all kinds of credit before and after this one, noting that program is in its first year under Tim Miles and has suffered a ton of injuries this season, including one to senior guard Trey Smith, who didn't play tonight. Does it appear there are any positives to cling on to from the Spartans perspective? Omari Moore is a nice player. So is Myron Amey Jr., who led the team tonight with 19 points and drained four triples. Majok Kuath could be another guy to build around. Playing in just his second game of the season, the 6-foot-8 junior from Salt Lake City netted 13 points and pulled down six rebounds. He spent his first two collegiate seasons at Hutchinson Community College (Kan.) where he poured in more than 12 a night. No matter if he was facing Ike or Wenzel in this one, he looked like he belonged.
* Is DuSell finally starting to find his groove on offense again? The freshman from Arizona drained a trio of threes in this one. That's the first time he has hit multiple triples in a game since a 20-point blowout win over South Florida in Hawaii on Christmas Day. "He definitely was in a better rhythm and flow tonight," Linder said of his shooting guard, who has missed time with a hamstring strain he sustained back on Jan. 15 at Utah State. "We need X. He is such a good kid but sometimes, you know, he gets in his own head. Thankfully, you can see tonight, he just played a lot more free and that allowed him to make some of those shots."
* Wyoming now has 10 victories away from the Arena-Auditorium. How rare is that? The last time a Cowboys team won that many on the road was way back during the 1987-88 season when Benny Dees' bunch finished 26-6 overall and 11-5 in WAC play. Fennis Dembo and the fellas fell in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament to No. 15 Loyola-Marymount. Allen Edwards' 2017-18 squad won eight road games. Steve McClain claimed seven in back-to-back seasons from 2001-2003. He snagged eight away from home in 2000-01. You already knew what we are witnessing is special, but Linder is really in rarified air.
* Were you stunned to see Ike step up and knock down a three with 16:32 left in regulation? That was just the third 3-pointer of the season for the Colorado product on 10 attempts. Linder wasn't surprised one bit. In fact, he expects it. "I mean, if you guys want to come to the gym at 7 a.m. he'll have the gun out and he's working on threes," Linder said. "He shoots probably 500 of those in between the slots. I told him that's what he has to master first. He doesn't need to worry about shooting threes from the corners or the wing, he just needs to be able to shoot those threes from the top. He puts in a lot of time and effort and he stepped up and made that one with some confidence. You know what, if he figures that out, man, good luck. You got no chance."
* More on the Cowboys defense in this one. In the first half, SJSU sank 5-of-10 from deep. It's no secret the Spartans only chance tonight was to hit a ton of threes and hope and pray that Ike and Maldonado would fall asleep at the wheel. You know what the chances of that are. None. Linder said he challenged his team to clamp down on the 3-point line over the final 20 minutes. This is how they responded: 3-of-11. "I thought in the first half we didn't do a very good job of defending the 3-point line," he said. "We gave up five of them. Then, at halftime, we did a good job of adjusting and kind of minimizing those attempts." The Cowboys rank eighth in the nation in 3-point field-goal defense, allowing the opposition to hit just 28.1% from behind the arc. SJSU was also a victim of the one-and-done throughout the second half. That will happen when you are outrebounded, 45-25.
* When the Cowboys hit the 70-point mark, they are now 18-0 overall this season. That's an incredible stat to keep an eye on down the stretch.
* I've been getting a ton of emails and messages about eligibility and why I keep referring to Maldonado as a redshirt junior when the television commentators and school website state he, along with Drake Jeffries and Hunter Thompson, are seniors. Because of the pandemic year in 2020-21, everyone gets an extra season. The NCAA, in its infinite wisdom, made these institutions list these players as what year they "should be." Wyoming, I assure you, has no seniors on this team -- eligibility wise. All three of those guys mentioned above could return next year.
* Who is Linder taking in tomorrow's Super Bowl? "Hopefully we'll watch Logan Wilson win a Super Bowl ring for the Bengals and then get ready for a very dangerous and talented New Mexico team," he said. Turns out Wilson is also paying attention to Linder's squad. "Hopefully I'll be back (in Wyoming) soon," he said over the phone Friday as he prepares to take on the Los Angles Rams with a chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy Sunday inside SoFi Stadium. "I need to come down and catch a basketball game because those Pokes are looking pretty damn good."
* Wyoming scorers: Ike 25, Maldonado 23, DuSell 9, Wenzel 8, Oden 5, Jeffries 4
* Mountain West men's basketball standings:
* Wyoming: 21-3, 10-1
* Boise State: 19-5, 10-1
* Colorado State: 19-3, 9-3
* San Diego State: 15-6, 7-3
* Fresno State: 16-8, 6-5
* UNLV: 14-11, 6-6
* Utah State: 15-11, 6-7
* Nevada: 10-13, 4-8
* Air Force: 10-13, 3-9
* New Mexico: 10-14, 2-8
* San Jose State: 7-17, 0-12