LARAMIE – If only for a fleeting moment, the University of Wyoming had its chance at history.
San Diego State, undefeated and ranked seventh in the nation, came to Arena-Auditorium as the talk of college basketball. The Cowboys, in the midst of another trying season, had upset on their mind. The Cowboys had pulled it off before: In 2017, UW took down No. 23 Nevada in double-overtime in Laramie. On Feb. 13, 2014, UW defeated No. 5 San Diego State behind 14 points from star Larry Nance Jr. to end the Aztecs’ 20-game winning streak as fans clad in brown and gold rushed the court.
With less than 8 minutes remaining in the first half Wednesday night, UW trailed by just three points. It went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in college hoops. And then, for the second game in a row, the Cowboys were admittedly out-toughed.
Despite valiant efforts from redshirt sophomores Hunter Maldonado and Hunter Thompson, UW was unable to overcome the hot shooting of SDSU, as the Cowboys fell to the Aztecs, 72-52, for the team’s third loss in a row. UW remains winless in Mountain West play.
Maldonado scored a team-high 18 points, while Thompson chipped in 15.
The Cowboys (5-12, overall, 0-5 MW) are a young team; head coach Allen Edwards knew that before the season began. The Cowboys were bound to take their lumps. But as much as the coaching staff has preached toughness and culture from the moment offseason workouts started, UW is still learning what “toughness” truly means. The Aztecs (16-0, 5-0) provided the perfect example Wednesday night.
“Toughness is not trying to go out there and fight,” Edwards said. “It’s understanding that if I fight through this screen … (if) I empty the tank to get to where I need to do, that’s toughness.”
As a whole, San Diego State shot 52% from the field. Yanni Wetzell scored 17 points on a perfect 7 of 7 from the field while guard Malachi Flynn led all scorers with 19 points.
UW shot 33% from the field in the game despite relatively open shots that just couldn’t seem to find the bottom of the net. Freshman guard Kenny Foster made his first-career start Wednesday and finished with seven points and five rebounds.
“I feel like I had plenty of good looks. I just didn’t convert them,” Maldonado said. “Six for 20 is not acceptable.”
Trailing just 18-15 with less than 8 minutes to play in the first and the game seemingly hanging in the balance, SDSU finished the half on a 14-6 run to take an 11-point halftime lead. Thompson’s tip-in off a Maldonado miss at the buzzer gave UW life heading into the locker room, though it was extinguished early in the second half, as the Aztecs went 5 of 6 to start the period.
What started off so promisingly turned to disaster in what seemed like a matter of moments. And the Pokes still have more questions than answers as to why.
“I wish I knew the answer to that,” Thompson said. “Maybe fatigue? Maybe a little youthfulness? It could be a lot of things. But we just need to correct it.”
Whether it was diving for loose balls or hustling until the final buzzer sounded, San Diego State put on a clinic of mental toughness, Edwards said. That was exampled with less than 1 minute to play by Trey Pulliam. With the game firmly in hand, Pulliam was fighting through UW screens as if the outcome depended on it. Those are the plays winning teams make.
“You admire things when you see things you want to become,” Edwards said. “On the way they played on the defensive end and how they share it on the offensive end. … they’re in the position they’re in because of it. … that’s what separates average to good and good to great. … That’s culture right there.”
The total attendance at Arena-Auditorium for a game featuring a top-10 opponent was listed at just 2,941. While the crowd was at times loud, it was clear there were empty seats, though part of that can likely be attributed to it being winter break. Edwards said he has felt the impact of crowds when his team has been on the road; he knows it makes a difference for the home team. He was nonetheless appreciative of those who made the trek to the arena Wednesday and noted decreasing crowd sizes around all of college basketball.
“I thought they were actually really good,” Edwards said. “I can’t control it. I’ve only tried to do my part. … (But) we’re not the only ones that are dealing with that.”
SAN DIEGO ST. 72, WYOMING 52
San Diego State: Wetzell 7-7 3-3 17, Mitchell 1-7 3-3 5, Feagin 3-5 0-0 7, Schakel 3-7 2-2 11, Flynn 7-15 3-3 19, Johnson 1-1 2-2 5, Seiko 2-4 0-0 5, Pulliam 0-0 1-2 1, Narain 1-1 0-0 2, Giordano 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 25-48 14-15 72
Wyoming: Thompson 6-13 2-3 15, Hendricks 0-5 3-4 3, Banks 1-1 0-0 2, Foster 2-7 2-3 7, Maldonado 6-20 3-4 18, Marble 2-4 2-2 6, Fornstrom 0-0 0-0 0, Taylor 0-0 1-2 1, Milton 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 17-51 13-18 52
Halftime: SDSU 32, UW 21. 3-pointers: SDSU 8-23 (Schakel 3-6, Flynn 2-7, Johnson 1-1, Feagin 1-2, Seiko 1-3, Giordano 0-1, Mitchell 0-3); UW 5-22 (Maldonado 3-7, Thompson 1-4, Foster 1-5, Marble 0-1, Milton 0-1, Hendricks 0-4). Rebounds: SDSU 30 (Mitchell 8); UW 27 (Maldonado 7). Assists: SDSU 13 (Flynn 4); UW 7 (Hendricks 3). Turnovers: SDSU 10 (Feagin 4); UW 11 (Thompson 3, Foster 3). Blocks: UW 2 (Thompson 2). Steals: SDSU 8 (Flynn 3); UW 4 (Maldonado 2). Total fouls: SDSU 14; UW 14.