Tuck’s Takes: This Wyoming team is not broken beyond repair
LARAMIE -- This Wyoming basketball team is broken.
There are numerous reasons why, too.
Without star forward Graham Ike, who could potentially return "sometime in January," this team is lacking a consistent inside presence, not to mention roughly 20 points and 10 boards per outing. More importantly, though, they are missing a 6-foot-9, 255-pound leader with attitude and the snarl to match.
Face it, this team just isn't scaring anyone without No. 33 in the lineup.
There's currently an identity crisis in Laramie.
To make matters even worse, Wyoming has played without fellow First Team All-Mountain West selection, Hunter Maldonado. Today, Noah Reynolds and Brendan Wenzel watched from the sideline, one with a lingering "Charlie horse" and the other dealing with a back injury, respectively.
That means multiple guys playing out of position. Limited practice time together. Linder said Maldonado, after suffering a head injury in the Paradise Jam, hasn't worked out with his teammates in 12 days. He could've showed up to the arena today with a headache or feeling dizzy, Linder added, and not suited up for a second straight game.
Beyond all of that, Linder admitted postgame this roster has frustrated him since the summer.
"In terms of the effort that's required every day to be a really good team," Wyoming's third-year head coach said, referring to his disappointment in the Cowboys' unthinkable 3-5 start. "I told them now you're seeing why I was frustrated, why I was losing my mind in the summertime. 'Hey, coach, it's only the summer.' Well, I know this, I've been a part of a lot of good teams, and those teams were everyday teams that could show up and put in the work and understand the importance of every possession in practice and not just say, 'we're going to show up to the game and be good.'
"All those pats on the back, all those people telling them how good they are, those people are nowhere to be found anymore. So we've got to figure it out."
There's been a glaring issue when the lights do come on.
Linder's squads, whether at Weber State, Boise State or Northern Colorado, are traditionally some of the best in the nation around the 3-point line. Yes, draining those long-distance shots, but mainly guarding against them. That hasn't been the case -- on either side of the floor -- during this current four-game losing skid.
In the latest setback Saturday, the Cowboys connected on just 10-of-35 attempts from beyond the arc. Jake Kyman nailed four of those. Maldonado added two. Grand Canyon, on the flipside, hit better than 42 of its shots from the outside. That's 8-of-19, three off the right hand of guard Roy Harrison.
Kyman said Saturday the shots were open, the Cowboys just simply missed a heck of a lot more than they made. There's also another part of that equation, too, the UCLA transfer added.
"I wouldn't say we were dependent (on the three) because we took some good ones that were open," said Kyman, who finished with a team-high 16 points Saturday inside the Arena-Auditorium. "I wouldn't say we were forcing any of them. Sometimes, when it comes down to it, you have to knock the shot down. But we also have to play on the defensive end, you know, pick it up down there because there's nights where you're not going to shoot the greatest but you still have to come out with the 'W.' Defense is a big part of that."
How inconsistent has Wyoming been at guarding the arc?
The Cowboys rank ninth in the Mountain West, allowing opponents to connect .355% of the time. That lands this team No. 237 overall out of 352 Division-I programs.
The Pokes rank 40th in the nation when it comes to 3-point attempts, averaging 27 per game. No other team in the conference, aside from Air Force, has even chucked up 200-plus.
How many of those 224 tries have been successful for the Pokes? Just 78.
The visitors on Saturday were just better from the field in general, shooting 46% on the afternoon. So was Drake (42.3%) and Boston College (44.7%). Santa Clara shot .2% worse than UW did in last Wednesday's 89-85 overtime loss at Salt Lake Community College.
The Broncos made up for that by out rebounding the Cowboys, 35-29, including 11 on the offensive glass.
Maldonado didn't dance around the issue postgame -- this team is rattled.
"I think our confidence is obviously taking a hit, losing four in a row," said the senior, who finished with 12 points against GCU. "But, at the same time, I know how much work I put in and how much work these guys put in. It's not a thing of confidence, but rather coming back and finding a way to get better every single day."
That simply isn't happening right now.
Linder said there were a few positives to take away from the eight-point loss, pointing to holding the 'Lopes to just one offensive rebound. Yeah, that's impressive. GCU averages more than 11 of those a night.
Who would've thought we'd be talking about small victories like that with this team?
While you can all but kiss an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament goodbye -- like we should even be mentioning March Madness at this point -- this season is far from over. In fact, this could all serve as one big learning experience.
I said in the first line of this column that this team is broken. That's true. Beyond repair? Not hardly.
Linder last week compared his team's start to that of Fresno State on the gridiron. Without the services of Jake Haener, the Bulldogs limped to a 1-4 start, which included a loss to lowly UConn. When the star quarterback returned to the lineup, Fresno State went on an eight-game winning streak that culminated today, hoisting the Mountain West Championship trophy inside Boise's Albertsons Stadium.
That can happen here, too.
Ike is that important to this operation. He's a generational talent. Having patience with this group won't be easy. Talent litters this lineup, that's what makes this streak so maddening. It could get worse, too. Meetings with Saint Mary's and Dayton are on the horizon. Linder and Co. made this non-conference schedule difficult on purpose. They also planned to be at full strength.
Not all is lost, though today it may seem like it.
"You can continue to feel sorry for yourself, but guess what, the sun's coming up tomorrow, regardless," Linder said. "The next team is coming, regardless, so you better not feel too sorry for yourself because the next team coming in here, they're trying to beat you.
"But are you going to pay the price to find a way to go win?"
FINAL: Grand Canyon 66, Wyoming 58
* Wyoming sported some 1980's Fennis Dembo era throwback uniforms Saturday afternoon in Laramie. "I just wish we would have played a little bit better in them," Linder quipped. He said those teams were known for "doing the dirty work and knowing where winning lies." It was an obvious plea to his current squad. Linder said this won't be the last time these threads get busted out this season. "Guys like uniforms, but also, I like winning," he said.
* "Driving layup." That's what the official stat sheet says when it comes to three of the Cowboys' first four buckets of the second half. That was an 8-3 run out of the locker room. That offensive spurt gave UW its second lead of the game, 38-34. Hunter Thompson drove the lane. So did Maldonado and Ethan Anderson. Kyman hit a mid-range jumper. Notice something missing? A three-point attempt. "We shot a bunch of threes, but at some point, they're wide-open threes, you have to hit those, myself included," Maldonado said. "So, yeah, we like to attack downhill. It just depends on the matchup. But if the defense is going to give you a wide-open three, you have to make it." Linder said missing Reynolds in this one hurt as far as getting to the rack. Still, it was working. Why did it stop, especially when GCU turned to zone defense late?
* A leader wanted. Linder said last week he needs someone(s) not named Maldonado to step up. The head coach is also looking for a higher compete level in practice. While it's easy to point the finger at the numerous injuries this roster has suffered, Linder said they have yet to replace a player who is now netting nearly 17 points a night in the NBA G-League. "The beauty of Drake is not just being an elite shooter, he was an elite defensive player in terms of certain guys like (Boise State's) Marcus Shaver couldn't score on Drake Jeffries last year," Linder said. "Drake Jeffries was an elite defensive rebounder. Drake Jeffries was elite in terms of coming to practice every day with the same energy that was contagious ... He brought a lot to the equation. I think people kind of undersold him and what his value was with this team. So, hopefully someone can fill that void."
* Did you hate streaming the Wyoming-Santa Clara game on FloSports Wednesday afternoon? Actually, you probably didn't even pay the $30 and turned on the radio instead, huh? Me, too. We're not alone. Maldonado missed the game in SLC. He said that was the first road game he hasn't been to since suffering a back injury in 2018. "It was obviously hard for me," he said. "... Not being able to do anything, not being able to be there in-person and kind of talk to them or cheer them on sucked. Obviously that's in the past. We've got to find a way to go out there and win some games."
* 4,472. That was the announced attendance today in Laramie. Look, I realize this team is without its star player for the foreseeable future. I know the Cowboys entered this one on a three-game slide and things haven't been pretty of late. But, where are you? All we heard this offseason is how excited this fanbase was to watch this team. Griping on the internet is at an all-time high, butts in the seats, that's a different story. The atmosphere today in what was once referred to as the Dome of Doom was anything but intimidating.
* Jovan Blacksher, GCU's leading scorer and WAC Preseason Player of the Year, did not play against the Cowboys. The junior guard averages nearly 13 points per game and hits better than 43% of his shots. Six times in seven games this fall, Blacksher has reached double figures.
* Wyoming's scorers: Kyman 16, Maldonado 12, Anderson 8, Thompson 6, Max Agbonkpolo 5, Kenny Foster 5, Xavier Dusell 4, Jeremiah Oden 2
* Mountain West standings: New Mexico: 7-0, UNLV: 7-0, Utah State: 6-0, Nevada: 7-1, Boise State: 6-2, San Diego State: 6-2, CSU: 6-3, SJSU: 6-3, Air Force: 5-4, Wyoming: 3-5, Fresno State: 1-5
* Mountain West scoreboard (Saturday finals): Portland State 68, Air Force 64; Grand Canyon 66, Wyoming 58; Northern Colorado 88, CSU 83; Arkansas 99, San Jose State 58; Boise State 86, Texas A&M 71
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