LARAMIE – The University of Wyoming finally got the offensive explosion it’s been craving all season. Unfortunately, a normally reliable defense the Cowboys have hung their hats on showed its cracks at the worst possible time.

Despite season-highs in points scored, made 3-pointers and shooting percentage from UW, Air Force hit an Arena-Auditorium opponent record 17 3-pointers in an 86-77 victory over the Cowboys on Wednesday. The 86 points allowed were the most by UW this season. The previous record for most made 3-pointers by an opponent at Arena-Auditorium was 16 by Texas State in 2008.

“We all talk about defense, defense, defense” redshirt sophomore guard Hunter Maldonado, who had 18 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in the loss, said. “And that didn’t show.”

UW (3-6 overall, 0-1 Mountain West) hit 14 of 31 from deep and shot 51.8% from the field in a display of offensive efficiency that has been rare at times this year. A late 13-2 run and a field goal barrage cut the UW deficit to just five points with 35 seconds left.

But, as was the case the entire night, Air Force (4-5, 1-0) seemingly always had an answer, whether it was knocking down late free throws or hitting timely shots. Whenever it seemed like the pendulum had swung in UW’s direction, the Falcons hit another dagger. At one point in the second half, Air Force hit 6 of 7 3-point tries.

There was perhaps not a more discouraging moment than the acrobatic, prayer of a jump shot from Air Force’s A.J. Walker that bounced off the top of the backboard and somehow fell through the bottom of the net with just over 1 minute, 30 seconds remaining to play. The miracle came on the heels of a 10-0 UW run.

“There will be two games out of every year when you don’t play lights out and they do. And you don’t have nothing to do with it,” UW head coach Allen Edwards said, shrugging his shoulders and shaking his head. “I don’t know.”

Trailing by nine at halftime, UW came out scorching to start the second half, outscoring Air Force 11-4 in the first 3 minutes to cut the deficit down to two points. UW started both halves strong, holding Air Force scoreless the first four minutes of the game before ultimately falling victim to hot-shooting. Air Force shot 53.3% from the field overall.

“We got into a scoring battle tonight,” Edwards said. “This is not who we are. And what I mean by that is, I don’t want them to get the misconception that we cannot score … (but) we have to be able to defend at the end of the day.”

Four UW players finished in double-figure scoring Wednesday night. In addition to Maldonado, senior guard Jake Hendricks and sophomore forward Hunter Thompson scored 17 points while sophomore forward T.J. Taylor finished with 10 points. UW’s late run to close the deficit was encouraging in some respects, according to senior guard Jake Hendricks. Hendricks hit five 3-pointers in game.

“I think that’s a little positive … (But) I don’t think we should have been there in the first place,” Hendricks said. “If we do our job on the defensive end, we shouldn’t be in that spot.”

UW gets another conference foe at Arena-Auditorium on Saturday when New Mexico comes to Laramie. This season, every MW team will play one or two conference games this week before finishing off non-conference play. For reference, UW didn’t play its first MW game until Jan. 2, 2019.

UW legend Fennis Dembo’s jersey will be retired Saturday at halftime. Dembo, who wore No. 34, led UW to the Sweet 16 in 1987 and averaged 17.9 points and 7.4 rebounds in his Cowboys career. The first 3,000 fans at Saturday’s game will receive a Dembo bobblehead.

Dembo’s presence can be nothing but a positive for Wyoming, Edwards said. While his younger players might be unfamiliar with Dembo’s highlight reel, a speech from the heart could be the spark the Pokes need, Edwards said. More importantly, however, is Dembo is finally getting his due.

“I don’t know if it could have happened to a better person,” Edwards said. “I couldn’t be more happy for Fennis … He really made an impression on this program.”

FALCONS 86, COWBOYS 77

Air Force: Scottie 8-17 0-0 19, Swan 6-10 2-2 17, Morris 4-9 3-5 15, Walker 8-11 0-3 20, Van Soelen 0-3 0-0 0, Tomes 0-1 0-0 0, Kinrade 1-3 0-0 2, Taylor 5-6 0-1 13. Totals: 32-60 5-11 86

Wyoming: Thompson 6-8 1-2, Taylor 4-8 1-1 10, Hendricks 6-10 0-0 17, Banks 2-3 0-0 5, Maldonado 7-16 3-4 18, Milton 0-2 0-0 0, Porter 0-2 0-0 0, Mueller 1-2 0-0 2, Foster 3-5 0-0 8. Totals: 29-56 5-7 77

Halftime: AFA 38, UW 29. 3-pointers: AFA 17-30 (Walker 4-5, Morris 4-8, Swan 3-6, Scottie 3-4, Taylor 3-4, Van Soelen 0-1, Tomes 0-1, Kinrade 0-1); UW 14-31 (Hendricks 5-7, Thompson 4-6, Foster 2-3, Banks 1-2, Taylor 1-3, Maldonado 1-7, Milton 0-1, Porter 0-2). Rebounds: AFA 33 (Walker 7, Scottie 6); UW 28 (Maldonado 8, Thompson 7). Assists: AFA 21 (Walker 7, Swan 5); UW 16 (Maldonado 9). Turnovers: AFA 10 (Swan 4, Scottie 3); UW 11 (Thompson 3, Hendricks 3, Maldonado 3). Blocks: AFA 1 (Swan); UW 3 (Thompson 2). Steals: AFA 7 (Swan 3, Morris 2); UW 6 (Hendricks 2, Maldonado 2). Total fouls: AFA 12; UW 16. Fouled out: UW (Banks). Officials: Chris Rastatter, Larry Spaulding, Ryan McDaniel. Attendance: 3,013

“Four Wyoming players finished in double-figure scoring Wednesday night. In addition to Maldonado, senior guard Jake Hendricks and sophomore forward Hunter Thompson scored 17 points while sophomore forward T.J. Taylor finished with 10 points. UW’s late run to close the deficit was encouraging in some respects, according to senior guard Jake Hendricks. Hendricks hit 5 3-pointers in game.”

Michael Katz is a writer for WyoSports. He can be reached by email at mkatz@wyosports.net. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelLKatz.

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