Tuck’s Take: Ice-Cold Cowboys Once Again Flounder From Deep
LARAMIE -- Same song, different verse.
Coming off a dismal shooting performance in Las Vegas, Jeff Linder said the looks were there. The results? Not so much. Wyoming hit just 18 total field goals inside the Thomas and Mack Center. Only four of those came behind the three-point line on 25 attempts.
Can't get much worse than that, right?
Sam Griffin sank a triple at the 10:36 mark of the first half in Tuesday night's meeting with No. 25 New Mexico. That shot tied this one up at 12-12.
It was the Cowboys (12-11, 5-5) first made three on five attempts. They would miss their next seven and finish the night 6-of-26 from distance in a lopsided 91-73 affair inside the Arena-Auditorium.
Where does Linder's team go from here?
"As long as we're shooting the right ones, we'll keep shooting," he said postgame. "... As long as the quality of the shot is fine, then hey, I'm OK with it."
Brendan Wenzel, one player on this roster who has actually been draining threes over the last three games -- 13-of-26 -- admitted the misses can become "confidence killers."
Senior guard Akuel Kot came up empty on all eight of his three-pointers in Sin City. He added three more clanks against the Lobos (19-4, 7-3). Griffin was just 2-of-9 and Mason Walters failed to connect on four attempts. He hit nearly 40% of his threes last season at the University of Jamestown.
This year, Walters is just 4-of-27.
"At the end of the day, we just have to hit them," Wenzel said. "Shots are going to fall, eventually."
One can hope.
The Cowboys were a mainstay in the nation's Top-10 in three-point efficiency -- and No. 1 in the Mountain West -- before that loss to the Rebels. They plummeted to 17th (38.3%) after that 16% performance.
"We did a great job of limiting the 3-point line, which has been 38-39%," New Mexico head coach Richard Pitino said postgame. "You hold them to 23%. It started with JT Toppin rebounding. Then it was Nelly Junior Joseph catching up. Then it was Jaelen House getting eight rebounds. We just looked more ourselves today for whatever the reason was."
Wyoming helped that cause.
Wenzel, who netted a game-high 20 points, may be confident the outside shooting will come, but the senior was more concerned with the defensive effort in this one.
"You know, games like this will happen. We didn't hit shots in the first half," he said. "We didn't guard very well. So, it's not just confidence, it's we have to have more fight. We have to do more. We have to be better."
The visitors shot 45% from the field and tacked on 13 triples.
After a pair of Wenzel free throws cut the lead to four midway through the first half, the Lobos went on a 13-0 run, hitting 8-of-10 shots. Wyoming, meanwhile, went into its traditional scoring slump, missing nine straight from the field while failing to score for 5:23.
The damage was done. The New Mexico lead swelled to 24 with 12:56 remaining.
"We need that type of intent and intensity on the defensive end for us to beat the better teams moving forward," Linder said, referring to Lobo guards Jamal Mashburn Jr., Donovan Dent and House, who locked down Griffin and Kot while combining to score 51 points. "Like, it can't be the other teams just wearing you out. Then you're not wearing the other team out."
Linder did admit his team was gassed.
While New Mexico enjoyed a week off, the Cowboys were coming off a physical loss just three nights ago in Las Vegas. Aside from one single minute against the Lobos, Wenzel has been on the court for the entirety of three straight games, including all five minutes of overtime against Colorado State.
Kot and Griffin are in the same boat.
That could also account for the rebounding discrepancy, which favored the Lobos, 51-35, including a 13-6 advantage on the offensive glass.
"We play constantly," Wenzel added. "It's nice to get rest. We need a day off, you know, but we can't have too many ... We have to come back and get better because Utah State is not going to be any easier."
Linder has a challenge for his team when they arrive at the gym for the next practice.
"We have no margin for error," he said. "... We have to use this week wisely. As I told the guys, you have a choice on Thursday. We can show up and get better or we can just show up. A lot of teams now, once you get to February, they just show up and then they just keep getting worse and they end up getting beat by 20 or 30.
"Or you can be the team that shows up and gets better, which I know that's the team that we're going to get."
He better hope so. A gauntlet awaits, starting with the first-place Aggies next Wednesday night in Laramie.