LARAMIE – The final score might say “blowout loss,” but the University of Wyoming men’s basketball team showed the world Monday night that it is not a team to be taken lightly as Mountain West play hits its stride.
Boise State, coming to Laramie on a 10-game winning streak, flexed its muscles on several occasions against the Cowboys at Arena-Auditorium. But UW took every punch it could and countered with jabs of its own as long as it possibly could.
The Cowboys (7-3 overall, 1-2 MW) cut an 18-point second-half deficit down to five with 8 minutes to play in regulation against the mighty Broncos. But Boise State – led by UW coach Jeff Linder’s mentor Leon Rice – put its foot on the gas late, going on a 20-2 run to end the game and give the Broncos an 83-60 win.
UW, now on its first losing streak of the season, faced its toughest opponent of the season by far in Boise State (11-1, 7-0). The Cowboys faced several double-digit deficits Monday night, falling behind by 15 in the first half and by almost 20 during the second half. But they managed to rally almost every time. The Cowboys’ heart was apparent.
Unfortunately, when push came to shove late in the game, the Broncos were able to shove just a little bit harder than the Pokes.
“It wasn’t from a lack of trying. But you have to do more than try,” Linder said. “You don’t know until you’ve been in that game. And we haven’t been in that game against that type of team. The type of team, when you make a mistake, you’re going to pay.”
Boise State shot 52% from the field and, at times, looked every bit of the title contending team that it is. Two Broncos finished with 21 points, and neither was MW preseason player of the year Derrick Alston. The Broncos, led by guard Devonaire Doutrive and forward Abu Kigab, were unstoppable on occasions, going on lengthy runs to seemingly put the young Cowboys out of arms reach.
Undeterred, UW continued to battle back as best it could. With 4 minutes remaining in the first half, the Cowboys trailed by 15 points. They proceed to go on a 7-0 run, and went into the locker room trailing by just eight.
Trailing by 18 with nearly 15 minutes left to play in the second half, freshman guard Xavier DuSell scored eight consecutive points for UW, and helped cut the deficit to eight. Freshman point guard Marcus Williams then stepped up to the plate, hitting a 3-pointer to make what seemed to be an insurmountable deficit quite manageable with plenty of time remaining.
From there, however, UW was outclassed, managing just a pair of Williams free throws over the final eight-plus minutes of play. Victory seemed to be within reach for Wyoming. That’s part of what made the loss so tough.
“Frustration comes, but you can't let that overtake you. You just have to stay locked in and keep fighting,” Williams said. “It was kind of tough just knowing that we lost by 20 knowing that we could have won that game by 10 or 20.
"… We know we can beat those guys just how they beat us. We weren’t holding our heads down at all.”
As hard as they fought, the Cowboys’ warts reared their ugly at the worst possible times. Rebounding, which has been an issue for much of the season, was again a problem Monday, particularly against an aggressive team like Boise State.
UW was outrebounded 47-23, with 27 of the Broncos’ rebounds coming in the second half. Boise State’s 10 offensive rebounds and nine second-chance points in the second half thwarted UW’s chances at another late rally.
“There’s just no excuse to get outrebounded by 24. You look at the stat sheet, you get outrebounded by 24. We should have lost by 23,” Linder said. “Ultimately, it comes down to real toughness, not fake toughness. But when it comes down to, when you have to get stops, when you have to finish a possession by getting a rebound, that you have to find a way to go get it .”
Rice’s Boise State program is admittedly a template Linder hopes to follow and somewhat reconstruct in Laramie. The Broncos have been to a pair of NCAA Tournaments under Rice, and have been in the upper-echelon of the MW more often than not. There are also lessons to be learned from this Broncos squad.
Namely, how to win the tough games against elite competition. How to dig deep when things aren’t going your way. And, most of all, how to rally with your back against the wall.
“They were doing everything they needed to do, and when we had a little adversity our way, we just came together as a group, locked in,” Rice said. “And we just told each other to complete the mission.”
Williams, Linder and DuSell said there are positives to take from the lopsided final score. The Cowboys hung around for 32 minutes against a team that hasn’t lost since late November and, at the moment, looks like an NCAA Tournament team.
“You have to be optimistic in the fact that we showed that we can hang around with those guys, and even beat them at a certain point in the game," DuSell said. "But then also you have to be critical on yourself.
“(It’s good and bad) knowing we had a chance to win, but also that we let it slip away.”
But a point of emphasis going into Wednesday’s rematch involves a phrase the team throws around in practice on a consistent basis: grabbing the wall.
“Grabbing the wall” is a reference to being in a pool. It is the moment in a game when one of two things can happen, Linder said: players can do everything within their power to adapt and overcome, or they can grab onto the wall of the pool and quit.
For three-quarters of Monday’s game, UW did the former. But in the last part of the matchup, the Cowboys grabbed the wall.
And if UW hopes to get where it wants to be, that can’t happen. Monday was a hard learned lesson.
“You have a choice, as a player, (to say), ‘Man, I’m tired.’ And now you’re playing five on four, or now you’re playing five on three” Linder said. “That can make the difference between winning and losing.
"A big part of our program, what we talk about is you can't grab the wall. And obviously, we were the team that that grabbed the wall there in that last seven minutes.”
BOISE STATE 83, WYOMING 60
Boise State: Shaver Jr. 3-11 0-1 7, Dennis 4-5 0-0 9, Alston 2-10 0-0 4, Kigab 8-12 5-9 21, Armus 5-8 2-2 12, Doutrive 8-13 1-1 21, Rice 4-7 0-0 9, Smith 0-0 0-0 0, Milner 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 34-66 8-13 83
Wyoming: Williams 5-10 5-7 16, Thompson 1-6 2-2 5, Foster 3-6 0-0 7, Maldonado 5-13 0-0 10, Oden 1-7 0-0 3, Jeffries 0-1 0-0 0, Marble II 3-6 3-4 9, DuSell 3-5 2-2 10. Totals: 21-54 12-15 60
Halftime: BSU 43, UW 35. 3-pointers: BSU 7-21 (Doutrive 4-7, Dennis 1-1, Shaver Jr. 1-3, Rice 1-4, Kigab 0-2, Alston 0-4); UW 6-19 (DuSell 2-4, Foster 1-1, Williams 1-2, Oden 1-3, Thompson 1-5, Jeffries 0-1, Marble II 0-1, Maldonado 0-2). Rebounds: BSU 47 (Armus 14); UW 23 (Williams 5). Assists: BSU 13 (Kigab 4); UW 9 (Williams 3). Turnovers: BSU 8 (Doutrive 2); UW 8 (Maldonado 4). Blocks: BSU 5 (Kigab 5); UW 3 (Three with 1). Steals: BSU 2 (Dennis 1, Doutrive 1); UW 3 (Three with 1). Total fouls: BSU 17; UW 15.