LARAMIE -- Larry Shyatt hoped that one day his University of Wyoming men's basketball team would find a rainbow after a eight losses by eight points or less this season, including a pair of road losses last week by a combined seven points.
Shyatt's Cowboys found that rainbow, but instead of a pot of gold at the end of it they earned their biggest win of the season -- and in recent memory.
UW got 17 points from junior guard Riley Grabau and 14 points from junior forward Larry Nance Jr. in a 68-62 victory over No. 5 San Diego State in front of a loud and proud crowd of 5,801 at the Arena-Auditorium Tuesday night.
The student section stormed the court after the final buzzer sounded as the Cowboys improved to 15-9 overall and 6-5 in the Mountain West.
It was almost 16 years to the day that UW beat No. 5 Utah 62-56 in Laramie on Feb. 12, 1998 -- Shyatt's first year at UW.
San Diego State (21-2, 10-1) tied for the highest ranked team to ever play at the A-A. The Aztecs saw their winning streaks of 20 games, 10 conference games and 10 road/neutral site games snapped.
"This is the best team I've been around in 40 years off the court, in the classroom and on the court," Shyatt said.
Not only was the game televised nationally on ESPNU, UW received a lot of other national recognition from the victory. The team was trending on Twitter in the second half. Cameras were in UW's locker room after the game to capture the team's joy and for Shyatt to say a few words.
And, an alley-oop, one-handed dunk by junior forward Derek Cooke Jr. on a pass from Nance early in the second half was voted as the top play on ESPN's SportsCenter.
"When (Cooke) dunked that lob, the energy in the building went through the roof," Nance said. "We couldn't hear a thing. Coach Shyatt was trying to yell timeout, but the refs didn't hear him for 10 or 15 seconds. It was chaos, but that's basketball and we loved every second of it."
UW shot 57.9 percent from the field, and all seven players that scored shot at least 50 percent. Fifteen of its 22 baskets were either layups or dunks. Ten of those came in the second half.
The Cowboys also outscored the Aztecs 19-13 at the free-throw line, and held a 21-17 edge in defensive rebounds.
That made up for the fact that San Diego State held a 21-4 advantage in offensive rebounds and outscored UW 26-2 in second-chance points. The 21 offensive rebounds was the second-most the Cowboys allowed this season.
UW trailed 11-4 early, but switched from a man-to-man defense to a 2-3 zone that frustrated San Diego State the rest of the game. Shyatt said the defensive switch was to improve his team's rebounding, but it caused a lot of missed shots by the Aztecs.
"We made them more of a perimeter shooting team than a driving and foul shooting team," Shyatt said.
Senior guard Xavier Thames, San Diego State's leading scorer at 18.1 points per game, was one of five Aztecs to score in double figures with 13 points. But he was 3 of 16 from the field and 0 of 8 from 3-point range.
"We just didn’t knock down shots," said Thames, whose team shot 37.9 percent from the field and was 5 of 21 from 3-point range.
"Myself, I didn’t knock down shots like I normally do. That’s something that I put on me. We thought they’d come out in man so that surprised us a little bit. We knew they’d play a little zone, but not as much as they did tonight. That was a good move by their coaching staff. We haven’t seen that much zone like (Wyoming) did."
UW led 32-23 at halftime, and went on a 7-2 run to start the second half. At one point the Cowboys made four straight baskets on dunks -- three by Cooke.
The Cowboys led by as many as 16 points in the second half, but the Aztecs cut the lead to 64-60 with 1 minute, 2 seconds to play after a steal and basket by sophomore forward Winston Shepard.
But UW made enough plays -- and free throws -- down the stretch to secure the victory.
"The reason why I love this team is we don't fear the moment," said junior guard Charles Hankerson Jr., who came off the bench and scored nine points. "We knew it was a big game and we knew it was a big stage, and we stepped up. That's why I love this team."
Junior forward Dwayne Polee II led San Diego State with 15 points.
"Our energy and intelligent effort was not what it has been," San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. "But I will also say a lot of credit goes to how Wyoming played. They took advantage of our half court mix-ups on the defensive end. We had good shots but we settled for shots where if we took another couple passes we could have gotten better shots.
"(Wyoming) knows what they want to do and they’re not going to get in a hurry to do it. They had multiple times where they scored with the shot clock under 10 seconds. Normally when we get that we find ways to make more stops and we didn’t do that."
Shyatt said the team wasn't happy with him initially when he talked to them in the locker room after the game because he wasn't smiling. But he smiled and told his team to enjoy this one -- for a little while before it begins to prepare for its next game Saturday at San Jose State (6-17, 0-11).
"We have to flip the page and do what you did in those disappointing losses," Shyatt said. "We've got to put it in the rear-view mirror and get on the road and steal another road game."
UW is 11-12 against ranked foes at the A-A, 27-29 against ranked foes at home all-time and has won 10 of the last 16 dating back to the 1995-96 season. The Cowboys' all-time record against ranked teams is 32-119. ... Shyatt is now 6-4 at home against ranked teams as UW's coach. ... Fourteen of UW's 24 games have been decided by eight points or less and the Cowboys are 6-8 in those games. ... UW is 2-4 against San Diego State when the Aztecs have been nationally ranked. ... With three blocked shots, Nance is ninth in UW history or most in a season with 52 and is tied for seventh with Fennis Dembo (1985-88) and Djibil Thiam (2008-11) in career blocked shots with 95. ... Grabau made all four of his free throws and has made 35 in a row going back to Nov. 22. ... This was UW's first Tuesday game of the season. ... NBA scouts from the Denver Nuggets and San Antonio Spurs were at the game.