LARAMIE – The minutes are mounting, and so are the losses.
Yet, third-year University of Wyoming men’s basketball coach Allen Edwards won’t use fatigue an excuse for the Cowboys’ woes.
UW (4-13 overall, 0-4 Mountain West) lost its fourth consecutive game after a 71-55 home loss Saturday to Utah State at the Arena-Auditorium. The Cowboys have lost nine of their past 11 games, and all four of their conference losses have been by double digits.
With just seven scholarship players available, along with two walk-ons, UW’s five starters played between 31 and 40 minutes against Utah State.
“Whether it is the injuries or being tired, I am tired of those excuses and I’m tired of people asking about that,” Edwards said. “That’s just the way it is, and we have to figure it out within that.”
UW has gone from a high-tempo offense to a much more deliberate pace by walking the ball up the floor, and often times, holding the ball near half court before running any action, which Edwards said gives players a little time to rest.
“I am not buying into the fatigue,” Edwards added. “If we were playing fast, I get it. The way we are playing on offense gives guys a chance to rest somewhat, and then I want them to give it their all for us for 40 minutes on defense.”
The plan worked a little bit against Utah State. UW led by as much as eight points during the first half, and held the Aggies eight points below their scoring average in the game.
But the lapses in between resulted in another loss.
“This game requires 40 minutes of mental and physical focus,” Edwards said. “Over the last three minutes of the first half we had some lapses. We came out in the second half okay but, as game went on, we lost some of the young guys’ focus.”
Offensively, UW failed to break the 60-point mark for the fourth consecutive game. Senior guard Justin James had a game-high 27 points and true freshman guard Trevon “TJ” Taylor added 14, but no other player scored more than five.
The Cowboys scored 36 points over the final 27 minutes of the game.
“The focus we need to have the rest of the season is playing 40 minutes of basketball,” James said. “Whenever you have mishaps, teams in this conference will capitalize off our mistakes.”
Take it to the Banks
Junior guard A.J. Banks was given the task of chasing and guarding Utah State junior guard Sam Merrill, and he received high praise from his coach and teammates.
“He gave us everything he had, literally,” James said. “His legs were locking up. I applaud his efforts.”
Banks left the game two different times during the second half because of leg cramps. The second time he had to be carried off the court.
Merrill finished with a team-high 22 points, and he made a long 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Aggies a 32-25 halftime lead. Merrill scored 15 second-half points, was 8 of 14 from the field and 4 of 6 from the free-throw line.
“I would say most of those points came within the last 10 minutes of the game,” Edwards said. “We did a great job overall of guarding him, but (Banks) not being in there on him hurt us.
“I know he ended up with 22, but the way we played him I thought was the right way.”
In the six games prior to Utah State, James shot 25.8 percent (24 of 93) from the field and 18.5 percent (5 of 27) from 3-point range.
Against Utah State, James was 10 of 21 from the field and 2 of 5 from behind the arc. It was James’ best shooting percentage from the field since Dec. 5 against South Carolina.
Despite the recent shooting slump, James is the only guard in the country to average more than 20 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.
Taylor’s 14 points were the most since he scored 21 off the bench Nov. 14 against Grambling.
Taylor was 4 of 6 from 3-point range, and he entered the game 5 of 15 from behind the arc for the season.
“I had been in a shooting slump the last couple of games,” Taylor said. “We knew (Utah State) would play off me when I had the ball, and my team gave me confidence to shoot the ball.”
Taylor has scored in double digits five times this season, and is averaging 7.1 points per game this season.
More inside presence
Redshirt freshman forward Hunter Thompson of Pine Bluffs averages 11.6 points per game. One of the many things Edwards likes about the 6-foot-10 forward is his ability to shoot from the perimeter. Thompson has shot 47.1 percent (24 of 51) from 3-point range.
Those same numbers are what Thompson is shooting from inside the arc. Edwards said after the Utah State game Thompson needs to be more assertive and aggressive getting the ball inside the paint.
That could be key moving forward as UW’s other big man – 6-10 senior Jordan Naughton – is dealing with a groin injury that has allowed him to play only 10 minutes in each of the past two games.
Utah State has an inside presence in 6-11 freshman Neemias Queta, who had 14 points against UW.
Queta made 11 consecutive shots over two games prior to playing UW, and made his first three against the Cowboys. Queta missed his first shot in the second half on a dunk attempt. He finished the game 6 of 7 from the field. Queta also had two blocked shots, and he entered the game leading the MW with 2.6 blocks per contest.
Robert Gagliardi is the WyoSports senior editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-755-3325. Follow him on Twitter at @rpgagliardi.