Tuck’s Takes: Bubble-Busting Pokes Play Spoiler in The Pit
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., -- Xavier DuSell tried to tell you.
Minutes after a 10-point loss to UNLV last week in Laramie, the junior guard interrupted teammate Hunter Maldonado, who was eloquently answering a question about what could have been during his final season on the high plains.
"It's not over," DuSell quipped.
He proved that Tuesday night, splashing three consecutive triples in the first four minutes of the second half and giving the Cowboys a commanding 16-point lead inside the famed Pit in Albuquerque.
The boo birds were squawking in the Land of Enchantment.
DuSell finished with 13 points, three rebounds and a pair of steals in Wyoming's stunning 70-56 victory over the Lobos. The Quad-4 loss likely ended all hopes New Mexico -- a team that started the season 14-0 -- had of receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
It was a Valentine's Day massacre in every sense of the word.
"For him to come out in the second half, I mean, those shots were huge, just in terms of controlling the momentum," UW head coach Jeff Linder said postgame. "That's the biggest thing when you're playing here is you've got to control the momentum."
The announced crowd of more than 11,000 never got into this one. In fact, most started heading for the exits with less than three minutes to go.
DuSell's daggers were certainly a contributing factor, but once again, it was his defense that kept the locals' lips zipped and sent the Lobos to their fourth straight loss.
Jamal Mashburn Jr. entered this game as the leading scorer in the Mountain West, averaging 20 points a night. The junior typically sinks near 46% of his shots from the field and pulls down better than three boards.
Mashburn did score 15, but that came on just 6-of-17 shooting. He connected on just 1-of-3 from beyond the arc. The Miami product didn't sniff a rebound and he sank just two free throws on one trip to the line. Speaking of those freebies, DuSell appeared to have all ball. He probably should've never toed the stripe in this one.
It was a dominant performance from No. 53. But then again, this is nothing new for DuSell.
"That was a bonus," Linder said of DuSell's offensive output in Albuquerque. "The fact that he's a guy that, all year long, especially once we got to conference play here, we have to put him on the other team's best guard. So, he's having to expend the energy to guard (Colorado State's) Isaiah Stevens for 40 minutes, to guard (UNLV's) EJ Harkless for 40 minutes and to have to guard Mashburn for 40 minutes. Then, he has to turn around and have the ability to make shots."
There were a number of storylines to come from this bubble-bursting upset.
Maldonado, playing with limited motion in his left arm after suffering an injury last Saturday night at Boise State, landed a double-double with a team-leading 20 points and 10 rebounds. The super senior also dished out five assists while playing all 40 minutes.
Hunter Thompson also found his groove, drilling four first-half threes to give the visitors that comfy cushion. He finished with 12 points and five rebounds. And that was coming off a miserable performance against the Broncos in which Thompson didn't score a single point, turned the ball over once and fouled out after being on the floor for just 20 minutes.
Kenny Foster made his long-awaited return. The Aurora, Colo., native hasn't been able to say that since a Dec. 17 meeting in Chicago with Dayton. A back injury forced him to go under the knife. He could've called it quits. He didn't.
Foster took just two shots against the Lobos, but he nailed one from distance.
Even Jeremiah Oden quietly netted nine and hauled in seven rebounds. He also tossed out a pair of assists and finished the night shooting 50%.
Brendan Wenzel might have been the best player on the court tonight. The junior dug, dove and hustled his way to seven rebounds -- three on the offensive glass -- and a steal. He also capped his night with a trio of assists to go along with 13 points. He was 5-for-5 from the line. In fact, Wyoming knocked down 13-of-14 of those, a real rarity in a season where it has averaged just 70%. The Cowboys rank 10th in that category in this 11-team league.
Linder said Wenzel earned the "hard hat" after this one. That is given to the player who showed the most effort and grit in a win.
It's deserved -- but there were options.
"He just made a lot of winning plays on the offensive boards, loose balls," he said. "I mean, it could have gone to every single guy in that locker room, but they gave the hard hat to Wenzel tonight."
The team that was supposed to be playing with the most desperation got beat in nearly every effort category: Rebounding (39-32), second-chance points (16-8) and points in the paint (24-21). It was hard to tell which roster had just eight available scholarship players.
Wyoming, the shorthanded, snakebitten outfit that has been forced to use 16 different starting lineups -- the most in the nation -- is simply improving. Twice I have asked DuSell how he can even muster up a smile and keep plugging away as this forgettable year has unfolded.
He looks at me like I'm the crazy one. Maybe I am.
"X is a happy-go-lucky guy that has never made excuses," Linder said. "He's had times in his career here where he hasn't played at all, and in stretches, he does play. He's a Cowboy through and through and I love X to death.
"All of these guys, I'm glad they could experience this based on all of the things that we have had to go through."
* Wyoming scorers: Maldonado 20, DuSell 13, Wenzel 13, Thompson 12, Oden 9, Foster 3, Powell 2
* The Cowboys shot 43% from the field and connected on 11-of-29 from deep.
* New Mexico now owns a slight 77-72 edge in the overall series against the Cowboys.
* Here's a quote I loved after this one. “I can’t thank those guys enough in that locker room -- the players, my assistant coaches," Linder said. "They could have just as easily said the season is over, but we have a lot of season left and we’re going to continue to find a way to get better. That’s what I owe Hunter Thompson, Hunter Maldonado and all those guys in that locker room.” Good stuff.
* The Lobos (19-7, 6-7) entered the Top 25 thanks to impressive non-conference victories over SMU, Saint Mary's, San Francisco and others. Since conference play began, however, New Mexico is just 6-7 overall and now owns losses to UW, Air Force and Fresno State. Yes, this team played tonight without the services of electric guard, Jaelen House. He does make a difference. But one team played with more urgency. "We knew we were going to be facing a team who was going to be desperate tonight," Linder said. "But our guys love each other, they play for each other and I can go down swinging with those kinds of guys."
* This was Wyoming's first true road win since knocking off San Jose State on Feb. 12, 2022. That was a nine-game skid away from the Arena-Auditorium.
* The Cowboys haven't beaten New Mexico in its house since Josh Adams dropped 38 in a 70-68 victory back in 2017. This was UW's most lopsided win in Albuquerque since 1995 (14 points).
* Wyoming (8-17, 3-10) will host Front-Range rival Air Force Friday night in Laramie. Tipoff is slated for 8 p.m. The game will be televised on FS1.