Tuck’s Take: Griffin Puts it All Together in Upset Win Over Pack
LARAMIE -- Kenan Blackshear was the seventh-leading scorer in the Mountain West entering Saturday's tilt with the Cowboys.
Nevada's senior guard, a player Jeff Linder says is comparable to former Wyoming star Hunter Maldonado, is also in the conference's Top 10 in field-goal percentage, assists, steals, assist-to-turnover ratio and defensive rebounding.
Sam Griffin apparently didn't get that memo.
Wyoming's guard kept Blackshear in check through the first 20 minutes, holding the sharp-shooter scoreless on 0-of-5 shooting. He only pulled down one rebound. He also turned the ball over.
True freshman Kael Combs also drew the task of guarding Blackshear for a spell. That's when he netted his lone field goal. It was earned, too, forcing numerous pivots before eventually drilling a contested jump shot.
Brendan Wenzel and Akuel Kot also chipped in on the defensive end.
Blackshear did have five assists in the first half, but limiting that guy -- and his 16-plus points per game -- on the scoresheet is a big-time victory for a building program not to mention Griffin whose defense has been in question since he arrived on campus after transferring from Tulsa.
"I thought Sam played his best game since he's been here, and it wasn't the fact he scored 26 points," Linder said after the 98-93 victory, the Cowboys' third Mountain West win in five tries. "... He actually played like a point guard. He actually controlled the game. The pace that he played at was phenomenal. I mean, he just had a really good way about him."
Blackshear had finished in double-figures in four straight games. That streak ended tonight.
In fact, the Florida product has done that 15 times in 18 outings this season, including a 31-point outburst in an 83-76 road victory over Washington. He hit 12-of-22 shots that night. Blackshear also lit up Georgia Tech to the tune of 30 points.
Blackshear finished this one with nine points. Wyoming played off him in the second half, forcing him to make open shots against a zone defense. He made just two on six attempts.
What was the secret?
"Just don't let him touch it," Griffin Joked. "That was the game plan. So, it was a team effort with that. We limited his touches, which got him out of rhythm."
Easier said than done.
"He's 6-foot-6, he's kind of big so you just have to be more physical with him," he continued. We stuck to the game plan coach had."
"You know that now that we saw you defend like that, it's got to be every game," Wenzel chimed in, grinning at Griffin.
Oh, by the way, Griffin also got it done for the Pokes on the offensive end in this upset victory, Wyoming's seventh win in eight tries inside this building. The 6-foot-3 guard netted a game-high 26 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the floor, 16 of which came in the second half.
Griffin also dished out a team-best seven assists and plucked six rebounds.
Most importantly, he turned the ball over just once.
"That's where Sam did a really good job, he's looking at the bench figuring out what we're trying to do," Linder said. "So, I thought, his calmness definitely helped us."
Steve Alford has had his fill of the Cowboys since arriving in Reno back in 2019. After a 2-0 start against Wyoming, Nevada, then the No. 3 seed, fell to Allen Edwards' bunch in the Mountain West Tournament.
Linder has never lost to Alford, now holding a 6-0 record head-to-head.
While Griffin more than earned the lede to this specific column, this was the Pokes' best overall effort of the season -- and that isn't debatable.
Passing was on point. Nearly all physical play belonged to the home team. For once, this unit wasn't in a giving mood, turning the ball over just 11 times -- four in the first half -- a far cry from their near 16 per game average.
Wyoming won the rebounding battle, 35-34, despite giving up 17 offensive boards. The Cowboys shot a combined 58% from the field and connected on a season-high 13 3-pointers.
Kot, who finished with 20 points, was stroking from deep, draining five triples. He was one of four Cowboys to land in double-figures, joining Wenzel (19) Mason Walters (11) and Griffin.
"Yeah, by far -- on both ends," Wenzel said of the team's performance. "Not just on offense, we were getting stops, we were rebounding ... We just all just kind of came together. You know, we brought energy and the bench brought energy. The fans helped us out."
For the first time in league play, this win didn't come down to a Kot buzzer beater. Though his smile says he enjoys the big moment, salting one away with free throws is OK, too.
Kot said there was another reason for the effort in this one. Wyoming was playing for junior guard Kobe Newton, who has been hospitalized this week with an undisclosed illness.
"Everybody brought it tonight," he said. "We wanted to get a good win for our guy Kobe, because he's out right now. It was great getting that."
Jarod Lucas, the Wolf Pack's leading scorer this season, got his. He capped his night with 20. Tre Coleman averages just 8.2 a night. He finished with a team-high 23. Nick Davidson also netted 19.
It wasn't enough.
"Jimmy Johnson once said, 'How 'bout them Cowboys?'" Linder joked as he sat down to meet with the media postgame. "Believe what you read, I guess we didn't have much of a chance today, but obviously it was a really good team win. Obviously, it's the first time I think we've put 40 minutes together against a really good team.
"We knew we had to put 40 minutes together to be able to compete against a team like Nevada."
Wyoming (10-8, 3-2) will travel to San Diego State (15-4, 4-2) to take on the Aztecs Tuesday night in Viejas Arena. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. and the game will be televised on CBS Sports Network. Nevada is now 15-4 overall and 2-3 in Mountain West play.