Tuck’s Take: Brutal Night for Bigs in 84-71 loss to Weber State
LARAMIE -- Get well soon, Mason Walters.
As the Cowboys await the debut of the reigning NAIA National Player of the Year, there will be painful nights like this one.
Wyoming's frontcourt was exposed in a 84-71 loss to Weber State Saturday night inside the Arena-Auditorium, netting just eight points while allowing the trio of Dyson Koehler, Alex Tew and Dillon Jones to score 50 on 19-of-31 shooting.
The visiting Wildcats won the battle of the boards and outscored the Cowboys 46-34 in the paint. That number would be much more lopsided if not for early success in the lane from guards Akuel Kot, Sam Griffin and Brendan Wenzel.
Jeff Linder is also eagerly anticipating Walters' return to the court.
"Obviously, we're going to need more (from the frontcourt) as we make our way, especially in Mountain West Conference play," Wyoming's head coach said postgame. "But, like I said, when you get a guy like Mason, who has the ability to go get you 20 or 30 points, especially if you want to guard him one-on-one, he's not going to get sped up.
"That's where those guys are still so young and so inexperienced that sometimes they can let the game speed them up."
If it wasn't for the breakout performance of 6-foot-9 true freshman Cam Manyawu through the first nine games of his Wyoming career, including five double-doubles, Saturday's performance would likely be the rule, not the exception.
He capped game No. 10 with just two points.
Caden Powell hit 3 of his 4 attempts, but again found himself in foul trouble. He finished with just three rebounds in 20 minutes. Oleg Kojenets was again a non-factor, tossing away the Cowboys' first turnover of the night mid-way through the first half.
Weber State likely entered this one with the mindset: let the Wyoming guards do their thing, put the clamps on everyone else.
Kot led all scorers with 24 points -- a season high -- on 10-of-18 shooting. The senior has now hit double figures on the scoresheet in 43 straight games, dating back to his days at Fort Lewis. Griffin added 22 and hit all six of his freebies from the charity stripe. Wenzel chipped in with 11.
The rest of the Cowboys: 14 points.
It didn't help matters that the effort wasn't there on the defensive end of the floor, either, something Linder wasn't pleased with postgame. The Wildcats shot nearly 70% from the field in the second half, sinking 15-of-22.
"You have to sit down and guard the ball," Linder said. "I mean, it wasn't anything tricky that they were doing or anything that we hadn't guarded from other teams. It was just a matter of, do you have the pride to sit down and just guard your man one on one?"
We all know that answer.
"Everything," Wenzel said when asked what went wrong defensively. "Defensive rebounds, we couldn't guard the ball one on one, we weren't protecting the rim. Just a lot of simple stuff that we need to work on if we're going to win."
Walters, who underwent thumb surgery on his non-shooting hand during the preseason, is expected to miss the entire non-conference slate though he did return to practice last week.
This team needs him. They needed him tonight.
"We're really excited to get Mason back," said Powell, who picked up his fourth foul with 16:20 to go in regulation. "But, I mean, overall we just have to be better in the frontcourt. We gave up way too many offensive rebounds."
Among other things.
Walters, a University of Jamestown transfer, averaged 26.6 points per game last season, landing him No. 2 in the country in that category. He netted 2,662 career points, most in program history during his four-year stint at the North Dakota school.
"He's not going to be a miracle worker just overnight," Linder said. "Hopefully we can get him to have some games under his belt before we get into conference play. That would be a nice thing. If that's the case. But, in the meantime, I think that when that chance does come, he wants to be out there. So, hopefully, it's sooner than later."
Will Walters' game translate to this level?
Linder thinks so.
You better hope so.
San Diego State's Jaedon LeDee, Colorado State's Joel Scott, New Mexico's JT Toppin, Nevada's Nick Davidson and the other big men around the Mountain West are licking their chops.