Tuck’s Takes: Pokes’ Effort, Grit is There … Wins Aren’t
LARAMIE -- Looking for a good recipe for disaster?
Wyoming played Saturday without Graham Ike, Hunter Thompson, Noah Reynolds and Kenny Foster. Brendan Wenzel, who drilled all four of his attempts from beyond the arc and tied for the team lead with 14 points, left the game with 15-plus minutes remaining in regulation. An apparent right knee injury ended his afternoon.
If you're keeping track at home, that's roughly 47 points in street clothes. Rebounds? Around 19 per outing.
Oh, and San Diego State was in town. By now you know that program is the standard in the Mountain West Conference. If you don't, Wyoming head coach Jeff Linder will be happy to remind you.
Tack on a four-game losing streak for the Pokes. Throw in a 50% shooting day for the Aztecs. The visitors also drilled a dozen 3-pointers. To make matters even worse, this game was on national television. Not CBS Sports Network -- The CBS.
This would be a whipping for all the world to see, right?
While the Cowboys did come up short on the scoreboard, falling 80-75, this undermanned unit hit 58% from the floor (61.1% in the second half), drained 10 threes and only lost the rebound battle by five.
SDSU (12-3, 3-0) doesn't let teams do any of that.
Brian Dutcher's bunch allows its opponents to shoot just 41.5%. Only No. 14 Arizona has shot better against the Aztecs this season.
Points in the paint, which ended at 28-28. That says a lot considering Ike and Thompson were out of the lineup. Not to mention Reynolds and Foster slashing their way through the paint.
This was a third straight moral victory for the Pokes, but in the standings, it's a fifth straight loss.
That's all that matters to Jeremiah Oden.
"I mean, you've got to be encouraged, but there are no moral victories," said the junior forward, who netted 15 points and pulled down a team-high seven boards while playing 38 minutes Saturday. "We've lost these games, but you have to be encouraged. We're making steps in the right direction but those ones hurt."
This one slipped away from Wyoming late. Stop me if you've heard that before. It happened in the conference opener at Fresno State and again seven days ago in this building against then-unbeaten and 22nd-ranked New Mexico.
Those were all one-possession games in crunch time.
In this one, SDSU's trademark defense showed up when it mattered most. The Cowboys missed clutch free throws, sputtered into extended scoring droughts, chalked up a five-second violation, mishandled seemingly simple passes and were too generous with the basketball, handing the Aztecs a trio of crucial turnovers over the final three minutes.
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"There are really no more victories -- we're still losing," senior guard Hunter Maldonado said. "So late in this one, (Matt) Bradley was hitting some tough shots, and then the offensive boards killed us. Obviously, without Thompson, we're even smaller. We have to go in there and everyone has to make a group effort to go rebound. We just didn't do that."
That was a telling stat -- offensive rebounds. Wyoming gave up 11 of those, nine in the second half. Tack on 14 turnovers and your chances of beating that team tank drastically.
When you have seven healthy bodies and three guys on the floor for more than 36 minutes, those things will happen.
"Those are some of the things that we got to work on, but I do think we're progressing," Linder said postgame. "We're making our way in the right direction. It's just a matter of can we find ways to close games."
While the loss column now has double digits in it -- 10, more than this team had all of last year -- it certainly wasn't for a lack of effort.
Oden hit the floor, diving after loose balls. So did Maldonado, Wenzel and Ethan Anderson. Xavier DuSell was 4-of-5 from beyond the arc off the bench. Despite not scoring in this one, Max Agbonkpolo finished with a pair of blocks, steals, offensive boards and assists.
This team hasn't mailed it in, though it would be very easy to do.
"Snake bit" is the word Linder used earlier in the week. That's a fact. Wyoming needed a big game from Wenzel Saturday. It got one, too. Now, his availability for Tuesday night's tilt in Logan is very much in jeopardy. He has the ice pack on his right leg to prove it.
Linder often said he can handle the losing -- as long as it happens the right way.
This Wyoming team (5-10, 0-3) is doing plenty of that, but heart and grit can't be openly questioned anymore.
"I'm really proud of the effort that our guys showed," Linder said. "I mean, coming into the game really short-handed -- and then Wenzel going down and playing one of the more physical teams in the country -- I thought our guys, for the most part, we held up."
The Cowboys will take on Utah State Tuesday night inside the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. Tip time is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. and the game will be televised on FS1.
* Wyoming scoring: Maldonado 20, Oden 15, DuSell 15, Wenzel 14, Anderson 9, Kyman 2
* San Diego State scoring: Lamont Butler 23, Matt Bradley 18, Jaedon Ledee 8, Keshad Johnson 7, Nathan Mensah 7, Adam Seiko 6, Micah Parrish 5, Darrion Trammell 4, Aguek Arop 2
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