Tuck’s Take: Turnovers a Troubling Theme for New-Look UW Roster
LARAMIE -- Jeff Linder grinned and swore he didn't scream and make a scene in the halftime locker room with his team clinging to a one-point lead over visiting South Dakota Mines.
Would you blame him if he did?
Despite shooting nearly 46% from the field, Wyoming once again was far too generous for the head coach's liking, turning the ball over 11 times, including six combined giveaways from starting guards Akuel Kot and Sam Griffin.
Flow and rhythm on the offensive side of the floor, that was nonexistent. It was sluggish and mostly uninspiring in front of a hushed crowd of 3,272 inside the Arena-Auditorium.
"The first half, especially, I knew it was going to take us a half to kind of get re-familiarized with our home court. That happens a lot when you go play on the road," Linder said after the 80-59 victory Tuesday night, referring to the Cowboys' five-game stretch that took place outside of this building over the previous 24 days.
Brendan Wenzel didn't suit up for this one. Neither did Kobe Newton. Both guards were sidelined with illnesses. That didn't help. Plus, according to Linder, those weren't the only two feeling under the weather.
Caden Powell, Wyoming's 6-foot-10 sophomore forward, drew three early whistles. He was a nonfactor, playing just 21 minutes in this one.
The Hardrockers, a Division-II team, led by Alejandro Rama, hit just 40% of their shots over the first 20 minutes. They also went on a 9-0 run, hit five triples and capped the half with nine steals.
Rama netted 10 in the frame. Abe Hutchinson added seven.
Mines turned those 11 Wyoming gifts into a dozen points. The bench outscored the Cowboys, 9-5. Points in the paint also belonged to the wiz kids from Rapid City. Despite featuring a much smaller lineup, the Hardrockers held a 12-10 advantage.
The turnovers have been the most troubling theme of the early season for Linder's new-look roster. For the eighth time in eight games, that number has reached double digits, the worst outing coming in Myrtle Beach when Wyoming somehow hung on to knock off the College of Charleston despite 22 giveaways. Tuesday, that number reached 17.
Griffin, sporting the honorary white hard hat postgame, looked down at a stat sheet in front of him and asked himself out loud, "Did I turn it over five times or six?"
Five. That was a team high.
"Just making smart plays and seeing it before I pass it," the senior transfer from Tulsa said when asked how he can improve in this all-important category. "That's all controllable. It wasn't like forced turnovers, like somebody forced me to do it.
"It's on me. I'll fix it."
Griffin did earn the Steamboat-donned helmet for snagging eight defensive rebounds. He also added seven assists and scored 17 points on 5-of-12 shooting, which included four triples.
During the first 12-plus minutes of the second half, Wyoming looked like a completely different team, one that can compete in a deep, talent-rich Mountain West Conference this winter.
Turnovers were limited to just two. The Cowboys jumped out of the gate on a 20-9 run, led by freshman forward Cam Manyawu, who secured his fifth double-double this season with a team-best 20 points and 11 boards.
As a team, they shot 60% and outscored the Hardrockers, 45-25.
About these turnovers. Wyoming has 128 of those already this season. Linder said it was a simple fix in this one. Against the San Diego States, Colorado States and New Mexicos of the world, however, it might be too late.
"The second half, I said, 'hey, get to the second and third action and then we'll get whatever we want," he said. "And that was the case."
Still, there were warts. You knew there'd be growing pains.
Did the head man really keep his cool at the break?
If so, how?
"No, I'm a lot kinder, gentler soul," Linder joked. "You can ask those guys, I haven't raised my voice once at halftime. I don't think I've used one four-letter word at halftime, to be honest with you."
"He's always rated PG," Griffin said with a smile. "Always."
Linder said, with this group, you have to handle them a certain way. Well, they certainly responded with hustle, enthusiasm and buckets. Freebies weren't so easy to come by, either.
"With these guys, they want to please. They want to do the right things," he added. "I knew that was going to be a tough first half."
* Rama is an impressive player.
During the opening minutes of this one, the senior guard secured a steal, a block and was fouled on a 3-pointer. He hit the gimme and continued to be a nuisance on both ends of the floor.
He drove to the bucket with ease, at times. His jumper is the pretty kind that makes your eyebrows raise.
His Lakota name is "Brings Thunder," according to Mines' website.
He certainly lived up to it in spurts in Laramie.
Who is this kid?
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound guard is coming off a three-game tear, in which he was named the RMAC Offensive Player of the Week. During that span, Rama averaged 19.3 points per night, including a high of 22 in a 77-69 road win over rival Black Hills State.
The Pine Ridge product dished out six assists per outing during the Hardrockers' win streak and shot 44% from the floor, including 35 from deep.
"No. 3 is a Division-I type guard," Linder said of Rama.
Once a finalist for South Dakota "Mr. Basketball," the local product was named All-Conference and All-State after his senior season. He was also a captain and named team MVP at Red Cloud High School.
During his time up the road in Rapid City, Rama has earned All-RMAC honorable mention three times while scoring more than 1,000 points in the process.
His bio says he has 14 siblings. That's enough for two basketball teams and four reserves, a far cry from Wyoming's eight active scholarship players in this one.
Kael Combs and Kot drew the task of guarding Rama. They held him to just 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting. He also pulled down a rebound and dished out an assist.
A job well done on a really solid player.
"They understood the game plan," Linder said of his two guards.
* Is this game as easy as it looks for Manyawu?
"I mean, in terms of rebounding, yeah," the 6-foot-9 freshman from Kansas City said. "Scoring, I have guys like Sam and Akuel giving me the ball, so they make it easy for me. Rebounding, I just go find the ball."
Manyawu is coming off one of the worst -- most frustrating -- performances of his young career last Saturday night in Portland where he netted just two points on 1-of-5 shooting in an 81-70 loss to Pilots. He eventually fouled out of that one and played only 19 minutes.
That has been the exception, not the rule for this guy.
The game prior, a meeting in Austin with No. 15 Texas, the Cowboys' forward scored a dozen and snagged 10 rebounds. He also dished out a pair of assists and finished with four steals in the 86-63 setback.
"Cam responded well," Linder said of his outing against Mines. "... His ability, we wanted to speed them up, and he did a really good job of getting his hands in the passing lanes there in the second half to get some steals that created some easy baskets. That kind of got some momentum going and got some energy going."
* You might have recognized that well-dressed man on the visiting bench tonight.
Mines' 11th year head coach Eric Glenn is a Riverton native and served as an assistant coach at Wyoming from 1995-97 under Joby Wright. After his two year stint in Laramie, Glenn became a coach at Scottsbluff High School before heading to Missouri Valley College.
He also played football and basketball at Chadron State and coached at Black Hills State.
* Wyoming scorers vs. Mines: Cam Manyawu - 20 points; Sam Griffin - 17; Akuel Kot - 15; Kael Combs - 8; Oleg Kojenets - 7; Caden Powell 7; Cort Roberson - 3; Jacob Theodosiou - 3.
* Wyoming (5-3) hosts Stephen F. Austin (5-4) Saturday in Laramie. Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m.