LARAMIE -- It's a slippery slope when a reporter questions a team's effort.

I'll be the first to admit, I did just that after Saturday night's 92-72 lopsided loss in Laramie against Boise State.

The optics were bad. The statistics, worse.

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Wyoming was out rebounded 30-6 in the second half. The Broncos, a team fighting for a Mountain West title and a berth in March Madness, grabbed 17 offensive boards. Jeff Linder's bunch snagged just four.

The battle on the glass was 13-all at halftime.

It appeared this mishmash roster waved the white flag about 20 minutes too early.

That wasn't the case Tuesday night.

Yes, the Cowboys once again finished on the wrong end of the scoreboard, dropping a 75-69 decision to visiting UNLV in overtime. That's the third straight setback for this group. It's the fourth consecutive loss inside the Arena-Auditorium. Wyoming has fallen in six of its last seven outings.

This one wasn't for lack of trying.

"This is a team where you don't have to really rattle their cage and get after them too much," Linder said postgame. "It's, 'Hey, guys, it's not good enough. If you want to find a way to win this next game against a team that beat Boise State in Boise, a team that has played as well as anybody in the league, I mean, we have to be a lot better.'

"I mean, they responded well. That's what this team's done all year."

Heart. Try. Effort.

Those elements were all there in this one, starting with a pair of freshmen from Kansas City, Cam Manyawu and Kael Combs, who nearly willed this team past the finish line.

They at least got them there, beginning with a mid-court robbery with under 20 seconds remaining, courtesy of the 6-foot-9 forward. Combs drew contact as he glided in for a layup.

The ball didn't find the hole, but his two free throws with 0:06 ticks did.

The Runnin' Rebels handed Wyoming a golden opportunity to end this one in regulation thanks to a Justin Webster in-bound pass guiding big man Ron Whaley's skidding left foot over the white stripe.

Sam Griffin, who finished the night with 13 points and has led the Cowboys in scoring throughout the season, was blunt when he came to the sidelines to discuss the plan over the final 5.1 seconds: I want the shot.

The senior was granted his wish. The jumper came up just short.

"He hadn't done that before," Linder said, referring to Griffin asking for the pressure-filled final shot. "I just felt like the way that he kind of made a couple shots there, I felt like, not to say he earned that right, but in some ways, he has. There's been games where he's made a lot of big shots."

So has Akuel Kot, including last-second daggers against San Jose State and Fresno State. His triple with 28 seconds remaining in the overtime period against No. 24 Colorado State also gave the Cowboys a 75-74 lead.

"The smart money might have been to put it in his hands and let it go, but at the same time Sam has made big shots for us all year," Linder added.

Brendan Wenzel was the hot-hand in this one. The senior guard netted a team-high 20 points and drilled 4-of-5 attempts from deep.

UNLV (17-10, 10-5) connected on 9-of-10 free throws in the extra frame and Kalib Boone and Whaley threw down a pair of impressive dunks. Wyoming mustered up just eight points over that final five minutes to fall to 13-15 overall and 6-9 in conference play.

It was easy to critical after that 20-point setback against Boise State, but answers probably aren't as simple to come by.

While that outing certainly didn't pass the eye test, it's impossible to dig into the psyche of anyone, let alone a Division-I basketball player. The Broncos, like UNLV, are battling to play on into March. They are arguably the best team in this league. They have the wins and recent history to prove that.

This Wyoming squad is also still feeling the effects of a tragedy that in one way or another touched us all last week. A single-vehicle accident claimed the lives of three UW swimmers and sent two others to the hospital. Those are classmates, peers.

While no one is using that as an excuse for the consecutive losses, it's reality.

Mason Walters was the first to admit, Saturday's performance was an "embarrassment."

Against the high-powered Rebels, Wyoming's defense showed up to the party in a big way, limiting the visitors to just 30% shooting and 23 points over the first 20 minutes of action. That also included eight turnovers.

UNLV capped its night shooting 41% from the field. The biggest difference came at the charity stripe. Those guys connected on 19-of-22. The Cowboys missed seven.

You do the math.

"To see the effort that we put out against Boise State, that's not acceptable and not who we want to be as a team," said Walters, who finished with 12 points and seven boards. "I think that was kind of the biggest thing coming into the game was just, we have to play harder, and we have to play better defense. That's all it really was.

"... We responded well, I mean, you just don't want moral victories, you'd rather take the win in the end. We put ourselves in a chance to win, we just didn't get it done."

Wenzel thinks this team is close to a breakthrough. Yes, I know that seems a tad optimistic in a loaded conference that could send up to six teams to the NCAA Tournament, but if this version shows up to the court, crazier things are possible.

Just ask Nevada and CSU.

"We're pretty close," he said. "It's ups and downs in every game, you know? We just have to figure out a way to be consistent. We can't have one game that we don't care on defense and another where we'll go out and play some defense.

"You have to figure out a way to be consistent throughout."

POKES: The Seven Best Games In The History Of The Wyoming-CSU Border War Rivalry (Naturally, they were all Wyoming wins)

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