Tuck’s Take: Pokes’ Confidence, Swagger Building Up Steam
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., -- Jeff Linder said the next hill for his team to climb was winning away from home.
They did just that Tuesday night at the Academy, knocking off Air Force 83-72 inside a sparsely populated Clune Arena.
"I'm happy for the guys," Wyoming's fourth-year head coach said postgame. "For us to take the next step, to be talked about within the conference, you have to find a way to win on the road. We had to start here."
A dozen triples helped the Cowboys' cause.
Brendan Wenzel drilled a season-high six of those en route to a 25-point outing. Akuel Kot added four more. Sam Griffin got in on the party late, but chipped in with two.
Good thing, too.
Air Force's Kellan Boylen splashed nine -- yes, nine -- from beyond the arc. That ties a school record. The sophomore had just 13 of those all year entering this one. Though you might have been pulling your hair out and screaming at the tube, it was all part of the grand plan.
"For us to kind of take them out of the rhythm and timing, we had to do something," Linder said, adding Ethan Taylor and Beau Becker were more likely to go off than Boylan. "Obviously, he made shots. Give him credit. I mean, he hadn't made very many shots all year.
"... Sometimes you have to give and take and I thought our guys stuck with it."
Boylan's teammates, however, didn't offer much assistance -- or resistance. The Falcons went on two extended scoring droughts in this one that surpassed five minutes. The latest, a 6:15 dry spell. That came as the visitors went on a 16-0 run in the second half that essentially put this one on ice.
Taylor, the Falcons' leading scorer, capped his night with 11 points. Becker, just three. That duo typically combines for nearly 32. Rytis Petraitis, who averages 17 an outing, also finished with just 11.
This victory didn't take a miracle.
Kot didn't have to knock down a jumper at the buzzer, either. Wyoming took control of this game early in the second frame and never looked back.
What was the difference?
"Did we go on a 16-0 run?" Wenzel asked, his eyebrows raising in amazement. "I think it was defense. I think we did a really good job of stopping Air Force's cuts because they're best in the country at backdoor cuts."
The Falcons (8-12, 1-7) converted just two of those all night long.
Consistent, balanced scoring certainly didn't hurt, either.
Three Cowboys -- Mason Walters (22), Kot (20) and Wenzel -- netted more than 20 points. That hasn't happened since 2018 when Hunter Maldonado, Justin James and Trevon Taylor did that in a win over Grambling.
Griffin, the team's leading scorer on the season, finished with just six and big men Caden Powell and Cam Manyawu each netted four. Linder said Griffin was "under the weather."
"We have so many great players on the team who can really shoot and score the ball," Walters said. "So, I think just kind of every game it's pick your poison, so to speak. I think we did a good job of that tonight."
For the second straight outing the Cowboys also took care of the ball. The turnover total reached nine in Colorado Springs, six of which belonged to Walters. Wyoming handed the rock to Colorado State just seven times in last Saturday's improbable Border War victory.
Linder said this team is starting to believe. Walters even said there's some new-found swagger in the locker room.
Good. There should be.
The Cowboys have won 4-of-5 and are now 5-3 in Mountain West play. This ragtag bunch was supposed to be fighting for scraps at the bottom of the standings with the likes of San Jose State and the team they beat tonight.
Instead, Wyoming (12-9) has a better conference record than CSU, Nevada (two teams it's already beaten) and UNLV, the next opponent Saturday night in Sin City. Despite losing inside Viejas Arena last week, the Pokes are tied in the standings with the mighty San Diego State Aztecs.
Will it last?
There's no telling. This league is a gauntlet.
Right now, though, Linder's squad is feeling it.
"Where our team is at, you know, compared to last year when we came in here, it's night and day," he said. "So, now what we have to do is continue to build and just continue to get better. Our guys' confidence and belief is doing this and that's all you can ask for."
University of Wyoming’s Top 50 Football Players
Gallery Credit: 7220Sports.com
- University of Wyoming’s Top 50 Football Players