Tuck’s Take: Big Shot Kot Sinks Bulldogs, 68-67
LARAMIE -- Jeff Linder preached the gospel of urgency all week.
Through the first 30 minutes of play Saturday afternoon inside the Arena-Auditorium, the Cowboys' collective engine was about as seized and frozen as the one on Fresno State's bus.
To make matters even worse, Xavier DuSell, one of the double-digit defectors from Laramie a season ago, led the visitors with seven quick points, including a pair of buckets from distance.
The final 10 featured a hindering 2-3 zone defense from the home team and a 14-point outburst from senior guard Brendan Wenzel, who netted a dozen in less than three minutes down the stretch, including consecutive triples that dwindled the Bulldogs' lead from 10 to four in the matter of seconds.
Wenzel charged that dead battery. Akuel Kot cranked the ignition, emphatically tossed it into drive and stomped on the gas pedal.
For the second time in four Mountain West tilts, the senior guard tickled the twine at the buzzer to give Wyoming an unthinkable victory. His first dagger came against San Jose State, erasing a 17-point halftime deficit. The transfer from Fort Lewis College nailed that shot from the left side.
Saturday, he went right.
Same distance -- roughly 19 feet -- same result.
"He makes a lot of big shots," Linder said postgame after the 68-67 win in Laramie. "He's a tough shot maker. In situations like that, it's not about a tricky play, it's just get the ball to your best scorer in space, and then go make a play."
He did just that, answering an Isaiah Hill bucket off the glass at the other end with just 0:07 to go that gave the Bulldogs a short-lived 67-66 lead.
Kot, who finished the night with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting, is making a habit of the late dramatics.
"He's a hooper, man," said Wenzel, who netted a team-high 17 points and pulled down eight rebounds. "It's simple -- he does what he does. We're all super confident that he's going to go get a bucket whenever we need him to."
Wyoming improves to 9-8 overall, matching its overall win total from a season ago. More importantly, Linder's squad is now .500 in league play with games against three teams -- Nevada, San Diego State and Colorado State -- which are already in the Top 25 or knocking on the door.
Was this a must-win?
The Cowboys certainly didn't play like it was early, shooting just 36% from the field in the first half. Again, the home team was in the giving mood, dishing out seven turnovers to the Bulldogs over the first 20 minutes compared to just three assists. The visitors turned those gifts into seven points. They also dominated the points-in-the-paint category, 20-10.
And you thought it was only cold outside.
“I wish we'd make it a little easier and figure out how to play a little bit harder in the first half,” Linder said. “We've been talking about that at nauseum, and I'm not sure what it quite is. We can't be that lethargic in understanding what we want to do to them. In the first half, we had zero points in transition, and a team coming from sea level, coming to -30 degrees, you have to make them feel the altitude and for whatever reason we couldn't get ourselves going enough to do that."
That all changed in large part due to Wenzel's resurgence.
Over the last five games, the San Antonio product connected on just 8-of-39 shots from the floor. It's no surprise the Cowboys dropped four of those games, all by double-digits. Wenzel drilled just one triple on 20 attempts during that forgettable stretch.
"I'm just thankful for him to see the ball go in because he's too good of a player, too good of a shooter, to kind of go through what he's gone through," Linder said. "But, his effort in the second half, not just making shots, was a reason why we found a way to win that game."
If you ask the man himself, "it was about time."
"I was in the gym shooting so much because I couldn't get out of this slump," Wenzel added. "It was nice to finally hit some. Shoutout to my teammates because they got me some open looks."
Wenzel now has 100 career 3-pointers in his three-plus collegiate seasons.
The Cowboys (9-8, 2-2) will host Nevada (15-2, 2-1) next Saturday inside the Arena-Auditorium. Tipoff is again slated for 2 p.m. and the game will be streamed on the Mountain West Network.
SCORERS: Brendan Wenzel 17, Sam Griffin 16, Akuel Kot 12, Mason Walters 7, Cam Manyawu 6, Oleg Kojenets 5, Kobe Newton 3, Caden Powell 2