Wyoming’s sixth man answers the bell
LAS VEGAS, Nev., -- Xavier DuSell ultimately hit the shot that will likely send the Cowboys to the NCAA Tournament.
With 30 ticks remaining, the sophomore guard hauled in a pass beyond the arc and calmly drilled a three to help lift Wyoming to a 59-56 victory over UNLV Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Tournament.
That was the exclamation point.
Brendan Wenzel is one of the main reasons the Pokes found themselves in that position in the first place.
"As you guys know, and I've talked about at length, ever since Wenzel's gotten here, I've challenged him," Wyoming head coach Jeff Linder said. "I knew, having recruited him out of high school, what type of player he is. I mean, with his size, his skill and his feel for the game."
He answered the bell today.
The Sophomore from San Antonio not only had a 12-point outing against the Rebels, he pulled down a career-high seven rebounds -- all in the first half -- and dished out one assist.
That was the strike to DuSell with Wyoming trailing by two.
Wenzel didn't just rack up those impressive stats in the Cowboys' first win against that team, in this building, since 2003, he snagged three offensive rebounds, drew a charge and held the league's leading scorer, Bryce Hamilton, to just four points over the first 20 minutes of play.
Wenzel also hit two free throws to seal the deal.
When the Utah transfer was on the court, the Cowboys were a plus-13 in scoring margin.
"I mean, it's great," Wenzel said. "You know, I understand my role on this team."
What exactly is his role these days?
Wenzel lost his starting job 12 days ago before Wyoming played host to Nevada in Laramie.
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He hadn't hit double-figures in five straight games. The defensive aspect of his game wasn't up to par, either. Plus, DuSell, the guy he replaced in the starting five on Jan. 17 in Reno, was fully healed from a hamstring strain.
The Utah transfer was limited to less than 13 minutes per game as the Cowboys limped to a 2-2 finish.
"As things went along, we just felt like we needed to change it," Wyoming's head coach Jeff Linder said postgame. "Wenzel didn't bat an eye. He didn't put his head down. He knows that we're not going to accept that. I mean, that's part of it and they know what the standard is."
On an afternoon when UW's leading scorers, Graham Ike and Hunter Maldonado, were limited to just 22 points on just 9-of-27 shooting, it was Wenzel weaving through the lane, connecting on a pair of 3-pointers and helping shut down the high-flying Rebels and their speedy guards.
UNLV's outside shooters -- Michael Nuga, Jordan McCabe, Justin Webster and Keshon Gilbert -- netted just seven combined points.
"Whether I'm starting or not starting, I'm going to go out on the court and do what I'm supposed to do to help us win," Wenzel said.
He did just that in Sin City, sending the Cowboys (25-7, 13-5) to a semifinals date with Boise State Friday night and a potential berth in March Madness.
"You know, those guys in that locker room, there's a lot of character," he said. "In order to compete for championships and to be in this position, everybody's got to sacrifice."