Tuck’s Takes: Turnovers, anyone? Wyoming way too generous in win
LARAMIE -- Brendan Wenzel was on the receiving end of one of those infamous Jeff Linder glares after a rough outing against Colorado in a preseason scrimmage.
Wyoming's third-year head coach issued a challenge to the junior -- elevate your game or take a seat next to me.
"I told him he was going to make his way back to being the 11th man," Linder said minutes after the Cowboys wrapped up a 79-68 victory over visiting Nicholls to move to 2-0 on the young season. "He responded and helped us win this game."
After missing the opener with back spasms, Wenzel came off the bench to net a team-high 20 points on 6-of-12 shooting, including drilling 5-of-10 from beyond the arc. He also finished with four rebounds and was a perfect 3-for-3 from the free-throw line.
Wenzel provided the lift Wyoming needed with Jeremiah Oden sidelined in concussion protocol, Nate Barnhart still on the shelf and, of course, Graham Ike out for likely the next two months.
Watching the win over Colorado Christian was a painful experience for the San Antonio product. So, he wasted little time getting to work against an aggressive Colonels' squad that has won back-to-back Southland Conference championships.
Wenzel, who came off the bench, hit a three the first time he touched the ball.
"My shot was feeling pretty good," he said, cracking a smile while discussing his offseason improvements. "(I'm) just playing and driving and making the extra passes. I'm really trying to focus on my defense and my communication."
Does Linder want Wenzel jacking up double-digit triples every night? One one condition.
"If he makes that many, yeah," he said. "I mean, he's a good shooter. That's why he got recruited out of high school. That's what we want him to do as long as he's shooting the right ones."
While no one will mistake Wenzel for Drake Jeffries anytime soon, he does have the ability to add yet another weapon to this program's holster. At O'Connor High School, he netted 41% of his shots from three.
Last season in Laramie, he hovered around 36%.
Wenzel's best outing came in a 93-91 win over New Mexico in late January. He hit a season-high four from deep. Against Nicholls Thursday night, he splashed four of his six attempts in the first half.
"Basically, if he's open, he's a knockdown shooter," senior forward Hunter Thompson said of Wenzel. "It just gives us another three-point threat."
Wenzel said during the team's preseason media day he felt like he was in high school again. He even changed his jersey number from 5 to 1, just like those days in Helotes, Texas. The 6-foot-7, 204-pound guard was mainly referring to his body and mindset. Most importantly, he was having fun again.
It showed Thursday night.
"It's no surprise," Linder said.
FINAL: Wyoming 79, Nicholls 68
* This game was, at times, downright ugly. Let's be real, it was pretty boring, too. Wyoming turned the ball over an uncharacteristic 20 times in the win. The visitors, who forced Arizona into 25 turnovers earlier in the week, turned those gifts into 25 points and refused to go away all night long. Max Agbonkpolo led the Pokes in this category with seven giveaways. Hunter Maldonado, giving UW fans an unwanted flashback to last season's NCAA Tournament loss to Indiana, where he turned the ball over 10 times in a loss to the Hoosiers, turned it over six times. Linder said, like that outing in Dayton, the senior was moving too quickly. It happened again Thursday night. "Maldo really never got into a rhythm," he said. "I got after him pretty good at halftime, him being a sixth-year senior. He knows when he gets sped up a little bit that's when the turnovers go up. It's just unfortunate and inexcusable in terms of some of those because there was no reason to turn it over. So, I expect more out of him."
* The Cowboys turned the ball over just nine times in a 102-69 season-opening victory over Colorado Christian. Thursday night inside the Arena-Auditorium, the home team had plenty of trouble with Nicholls' full-court pressure and smaller, quicker lineup. UW gave it away on in-bounds passes, cross-court passes and even when there were no passes at all. Maldonado let one slip from his hands after hauling in a rebound all alone under the bucket. Maldonado also skied for a rebound, attempting to snag it out of the reach of Caden Powell. The problem? Powell plays for Wyoming. Rough night in the turnover department.
* Thompson dished out just 10 assists all of last year. The super senior never had more than one in a game. Thursday, the Pine Bluffs product had three in the first half and finished with four on the night. The most rebounds Thompson had in a game last winter was five. He had that many in the season-opening win over the Cougars and added eight more in this one, including six in the first 20 minutes. He also added nine points and a steal. "He had a really good first half," Linder said of the 6-foot-10, 235-pound forward. "I thought he did a tremendous job, not just making threes, but I thought from a rebounding standpoint and defensively, that was about as good as I've seen him do in a long time." Imagine if the Cowboys get this kind of production out of Thompson all season?
* Agbonkpolo is a freak athlete. With 3:10 left in the first half, he briefly left his feet under the bucket. It appeared Manny Littles was about to take full advantage with an easy lay in. The 6-foot-7 senior tried that. It didn't work. The USC transfer swatted him from behind, slamming the ball off the glass. His makeup speed and length makes him a game changer, especially without the services of Ike and Oden.
* The best word to describe Nicholls is scrappy. The Colonels pestered the Cowboys all night long, going on extended runs and flirting with turning this into a one-possession game throughout. UW always seemed to have an answer. Still, this team, coming off a lopsided 117-75 loss Monday night in Tucson, hit tough shots from mid-range and long distance. With little inside presence, that didn't seem to matter. Micah Thompson netted 20 against the Wildcats. He added a game-high 22 more in Laramie.
* Nicholls could end up being a Quad-1 win when the dust settles in March. We didn't think the victory over Cal-State Fullerton would be all that impactful last season. Same can be said for Northern Iowa. Both of those likely got UW over the hump, off the bubble and into the tourney.
* For all the good Nicholls did on the high plains, there was a forgettable moment that took place early in the second half when Latrell Jones was attempting to save a ball from going out of bounds. The senior leapt, palmed the ball and launched it back into the court. His teammate, Littles, was just a couple of feet away and took one right off the kisser. That led to a night of torment from the nearby student section.
* Linder was not thrilled with the way his team closed this one out. Mainly his point guard Ethan Anderson missing four consecutive free throws with under a minute to go. That can't happen. "I thought we did a good job of getting to the line," Linder said, adding that Nicholls committed the most fouls in the country a season ago. "But when we get to the line, you have to step up and make it." UW attempted 34 from the stripe, nailing just 23. The Colonels were a perfect 5-for-5. Those points add up.
* Are you worried about Xavier DuSell? Linder isn't. Despite not sinking a single bucket through two games and playing just six minutes Thursday night -- all in the first half -- Linder said the opponent, sometimes, will dictate minutes. He said Jake Kyman and Kenny Foster simply matched up better with the Colonels. "There's going to be nights where you're going to need X and need X to make shots, but that's just what was called for tonight."
* Wyoming has attempted 70 triples through two games, hitting 24.
* Linder didn't love the energy from his team against Nicholls. He didn't hate it, it was just OK, he said. There was only an announced attendance of 4,498 but Linder did credit the youngsters with bringing some juice for this 8 p.m. tip time. "I do appreciate the students who are showing up for the games," he said. "I mean, the students have been good the last two games, we need them to be even that much better. We have to get a little bit more energy in there, but also, as a team, we have to be the ones that bring the energy, as well."
* Got cramps? Wyoming sure does. Oden left the opener with cramps. Thursday Noah Reynolds and Wenzel both went down with that same ailment. "I've never seen anything like it," Linder said, adding a shake of the head. "Never had anything like it in my time as a head coach or as an assistant coach. Hopefully we can figure out what's going on."
* Linder is hopeful Barnhart and Oden will be back for Sunday's home tilt with Southeast Louisiana. Tipoff is slated for 2 p.m. Mountain Time and the game will be streamed on the Mountain West Network.
* This game will provide plenty of learning moments, but Linder put some perspective on this one. "I'd rather learn from a win than learn from a loss," he said.
* Wyoming's scorers: Wenzel 20, Maldonado 12, Agbonkpolo 11, Kyman 9, Thompson 9, Anderson 8, Reynolds 8, Powell 2
* Mountain West scoreboard: (Nov. 8) San Jose State 63, Georgia Southern 48; (Nov. 9) South Dakota State 68, Boise State 66
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