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GAGLIARDI COLUMN: Cowboys must find finishers

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Posted: Monday, January 6, 2014 10:15 am

It is both encouraging and frustrating.

The University of Wyoming men’s basketball team has lost five games. Four were by eight points or less, and three by five points or less.

Four of those losses were on the road, the latest a 61-58 setback at Nevada on Saturday in the Cowboys’ Mountain West opener. Home teams are winning about 76 percent of the time in college basketball, so road wins don’t come easily.

Teams must make plays late in games to get those hard-won victories. So far, UW has not done that.

It has not been because of a lack of effort or want-to. And coach Larry Shyatt said his team have not tightened up in those situations. At least that is what he said after the Nevada loss.

UW might lack offensive firepower and size inside. But through 14 games there has been only one game – a 65-50 loss at No. 3 Ohio State – where UW got beat handily. Even then, the Cowboys led by four points in the second half before not making a basket in the final 10 minutes of the game.

Moral victories mean nothing, especially to fans, but for a team with its fair share of limits and shortcomings, this team has given itself chances to win every game.

But for those close losses to turn into wins, UW must find a finisher. That’s a guy who goes out and gets a basket, no matter how much time is left.

Junior forward Larry Nance Jr. is the guy right now. He’s the team’s leading scorer (16.1 points per game) and rebounder (9.1 rpg). He also leads the team in shots made, attempted, free throws made and free throws attempted.

Nance made the game-winning three-point play in a 67-66 win over South Dakota in Rapid City, S.D. on Dec. 7.

UW went to Nance against Nevada after Nevada took at 59-58 lead with 32 seconds to play after senior guard Deonte Burton made a short jumper.

Nance got the ball inside, Nevada collapsed on him and his off-balance shot in the paint area didn’t draw iron. Earlier, Nance also missed an inside shot (with heavy defensive pressure by Nevada) and turned the ball over trying to pass the ball to the perimeter to senior wing Jerron Granberry.

Nance also made a pair of free throws in UW’s 64-61 loss at Denver last month that tied the game before Denver scored the last three points of the game to get the win.

Nance isn’t to blame in UW’s close losses. When you are that guy a team turns to, there will be success and failure. That’s part of the deal.

And it’s OK if Nance continues to be UW’s “finisher” as the season progresses.

But the Cowboys also need someone else, and not just in the final seconds.

There were times against Nevada where UW saw the good and bad of that.

UW trailed 30-26 at halftime. UW’s five starters scored all but three of the team’s points, and the three backups that played attempted just three shots in the first half. At times, guards had some open perimeter shots but chose not to take them.

In the second half, Granberry and senior wing Nathan Sobey each made critical 3-pointers that gave UW leads. When shots like that come up for UW – no matter the point and time in the game and whoever the player is – it must take those shots.

The Cowboys pride themselves on being unselfish. That is fine, but when they have chances to take open shots they must pull the trigger.

“What’s important is how the guys feel about themselves, not what others feel about them,” Shyatt said. “Right now, I think we have level of confidence that different people on different nights can step up.”

But how about when the game is on the line? Nance has the confidence to take those chances, but does anyone else at this point?

Teams are averaging about nine more shots per game than the Cowboys. To UW’s credit, the Cowboys shoot nearly 49 percent from the field, but those nine shot attempts can be the difference between a win and loss.

Nevada attempted one more shot than UW, and that one shot went in.

As UW gets into the rigorous part of conference play, it hopes it is close late in games to give it a chance to win. But for that to happen, the Cowboys need to find ways to finish games, and take advantage of scoring opportunities at other points when they are there.

Robert Gagliardi is the senior editor of WyoSports. Call him at 307-633-3130 or email him at For more on Wyoming and Mountain West sports go to and, and follow him on Twitter: @rpgagliardi, @wyosports.

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  • SaltWYO posted at 11:46 am on Tue, Jan 7, 2014.

    SaltWYO Posts: 109

    Look I like the team and like this article. But saying that we have a finisher and look to Nance to do that will not work. What we need to do is find players that can score rather than depend only on one player. Just as the others have said, all Nevada did is step up the defense on Nance and no one else could score. How long did we go without a field goal in the second half? I think there was a stretch where we went 6 minutes or so. That is unacceptable. We need more scorers. None of our guards seem to be able to hit a pull up jumper from 15 to 18ft. That should be a no brainer. Wyoming is easy to play right now. You put a defender on Riley and you fall back and play tight defense in the inside. You can give up all those 18 ft jumpers because we probably shoot 35% from there and that won't be good enough to win. South Dakota should not even have been close to us. We should have beat a team like that by 20. Any team that has been half decent we have lost too. I hate to be negative but we need to find some scorers. Larry needs to look at what he did at Florida and there are other states to recruit from besides Colorado.

  • Don Schopp posted at 2:43 pm on Mon, Jan 6, 2014.

    Don Schopp Posts: 3

    Nance was 0-6 the last 10 minutes of the game. Nevada shut him down 1/4 of the game, the most crucial quarter. They didn't care if he had 4 dunks. They also DOMINATED Wyoming on the boards. No interior defense. Would you rather have 2 flashy swats and get outrebounded or have a post who eats the glass? Nevada was 6-8 and ranked 9th pre-season out of 11. The 9th best team in the MWC is light years ahead of South Dakota and Black Hills State. Strap in for a 2-8 conference start in the first 10 games. That's going to be hard to spin.

  • Don Schopp posted at 2:39 pm on Mon, Jan 6, 2014.

    Don Schopp Posts: 3

    Larry Nance, Jr. was 0-6 from 10:30 left in the game until the buzzer. You failed to mention the other 5 shots; just the last shot was mentioned. All 6x he caught the ball in the paint. This propaganda that says, "if they finish against South Dakota and Black Hills State, what is happening now?" is treating the readers with no dignity or respect. South Dakota just turned Division I. They had been Division II for decades. Black Hills State was a NAIA School and predicted to finish 12th in the RMAC. What happens is the competition gets tougher. Nevada was picked 9th out of 11th in the MWC. We aren't talking #20 San Diego State or #1 Arizona. A 6-8 Nevada time, picked 9th in this league can stop Larry Nance, Jr. when it counts (last 10:30 of a ball game). It's a repeat of last year. You wrote articles on Riley Grabau's development when they play teams not in the top 300 in the RPI. He sat helplessly the last 10 minutes of the Nevada game. They will start the conference season 2-8 with home wins against Nevada and San Jose State, maybe. After starting 2-8, you will print in the paper that on one saw this coming. Really, with Grabau, Sobey, Nance, Adams, and Cooke, Jr. they were dominated in conference play last year. What's new? From April until next Christmas you will soak people with how it will change again. They are guaranteed to start Nance, Gradau, Adams, and Cooke, Jr. next year. That's 4 of 5 starters all ready penciled in to continue this during the 2014-2015 season. Shyatt is just a talker. And no one is going to make him accountable for losing in conference play repeatedly.

  • cozy cowboy posted at 12:20 pm on Mon, Jan 6, 2014.

    cozy cowboy Posts: 50

    True, Nance is a hard worker but lets not forget that the officials have a lot to do with who wins for loses in these close games. Of course, no one can say anything about these sacrosanct judges for fear of retribution for the almighty Thomas.

  • southern poke posted at 8:41 am on Mon, Jan 6, 2014.

    southern poke Posts: 96

    Robert, dead on!


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