Gear up for gameday: San Jose State
LAS VEGAS -- Jeff Linder was watching from his hotel room in Boise, Idaho, as the Cowboys managed to pull of a pair of upsets in last years' Mountain West Tournament.
There, he saw Kwane Marble gash Colorado State, Nevada and Utah State to the tune of 59 points over a three-night span. Then just a freshman, Marble punched his ticket to the league's All-Tournament team.
Marble wasn't the only Cowboy to make a difference in Sin City.
Hunter Thompson netted 31 points against the Wolf Pack and Aggies, nailing 6 of 8 triples. Kenny Foster added 18 in the semifinals loss to eventual tournament champion, Utah State. Hunter Maldonado, who clearly wasn't playing at 100%, also finished the tourney with a combined 32 points, 25 rebounds and 13 assists.
If you ever wondered why Linder re-recruited these guys when he was hired last March ...
Despite all that success and the improbable run, don't expect any rah-rah speeches from Linder or those four guys lending pregame words of wisdom.
Linder said he wants to build a program that doesn't enter March with only hope, but good habits that lead to hanging banners.
"Probably not," Linder said of having that foursome speak to his group, which is the 14th youngest in college basketball. "As I told him today, they're not going to get the 'Miracle' speech from me right now... "I mean, you hope that your program gets to the point where you go into the tournament and you want the pressure on. You want the pressure, knowing, 'hey, if you don't win a game, you might not get an at-large bid' and you're actually playing for something."
That might sound like like Linder doesn't have much hope for this upcoming tournament in Vegas, one in which the Cowboys will open up Wednesday at noon against San Jose State.
That's not the case.
In fact, he thinks the Cowboys are getting better at the right time.
The return of Foster from a knee injury has helped. Eoin Nelson, for the first time since the calendar flipped to 2021, practiced today for the first time and should be available in Las Vegas. Graham Ike played his 10th game of his his young career Saturday night in an 80-69 victory over UNLV. The true freshman netted 17 in the win. Xavier DuSell has been Wyoming's best perimeter defender and Drake Jeffries has connected on 12 triples over the last four games.
With a full healthy roster, Linder said he regained his "best motivator" -- the bench.
Not as in guys that can come off the bench, but guys he can sit down when he isn't satisfied with their performance.
For those wondering why newly crowned Mountain West Freshman of the Year, Marcus Williams, played just 13 minutes Saturday in Laramie, Linder said the Dickinson, Texas, product has hit that "freshman wall."
Also, it's a case of tough love.
"It's my job is to prepare him to be a first-team all-league guy on a winning team, in which also, if you're that, now you're in the running for the MVP of the league," Linder said. "So, unfortunately for him, the way he's come on, you know, the expectations have gone up. And whether it's right or wrong -- sometimes he probably doesn't like it -- but I hold him to a standard that in my opinion is going to allow him to be an MVP-type candidate one day and not just the freshman of the year on a team that finished in eighth place."
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San Jose State won just five games all season and spent the past week-plus in Denver dealing with a COVID-19 situation. The Spartans were en route to Laramie when they found out they couldn't play their final three regular-season games because of a positive test in the program.
SJSU enters the tourney on a four-game losing skid, but Linder knows one thing about the Pokes' opening-round foe -- they are fresh.
"We were in the midst of watching personnel a couple of weeks ago when we were supposed to play them and then got the call the game was going to be canceled," he said. "So, we had prepared for them up to that point and had a pretty good feel for them. So, it made it a little bit easier, especially today, when it was almost a refresher."
The Spartans don't have many wins under their belt, but they do have plenty of success stopping what the Cowboys do best -- limiting the three-ball.
SJSU's defense is holding teams to just a 31% success rate from beyond the arc. They are allowing opponents to shoot just 44% from the field overall.
Richard Washington leads SJSU with 19.6 points per outing. He hits 41% of his shots to go along with nearly three triples per game. That's the third-best mark in the league. Ralph Agee also averages double-digits in scoring, netting 11.2 a night.
"They're a team that's dangerous if you don't defend them the right way and you allow them to shoot a lot of threes," he said. "Washington is a guy who can really get going."
Here is all you need to know about today's tilt in Las Vegas:
WHO: No. 8 Wyoming (13-10, 7-9) vs No. 9 San Jose State (5-15, 3-13)
AT STAKE: Winner plays No. 1 San Diego State Thursday night
WHEN: Wednesday, March 10 at 12:00 p.m. MST
WHERE: Thomas and Mack Center, Las Vegas, Nevada
RADIO: Cowboy Sports Network
STREAMING: Mountain West Network
BOX SCORE: Live stats
ROSTERS: Wyoming / SJSU
VEGAS ODDS: Wyoming / SJSU
HISTORY: Wyoming leads the all-time series 17-2 (Wyoming won the lone meeting between these two programs in 2020.)
HEAD COACHES: Jeff Linder / Jean Prioleau
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