LARAMIE – Even for a team that has seen its share of painful losses this season, the shot the University of Wyoming basketball team took on its chin Wednesday night would be enough to knock out a heavyweight fighter.
With the game tied at 67 and the chance to take the lead with less than 10 seconds remaining in regulation, a turnover by Hunter Maldonado led to an Isaiah White layup, giving Utah Valley a late lead. A desperation 3-pointer from Maldonado came up short as time expired, and UW lost to UVU, 69-67, the Cowboys’ sixth loss in a row.
“We’re right there. It showed us we’re right there. We were in a position to win the ballgame,” Maldonado said. “It was a mental error at a critical time.”
In a second half that featured six lead changes, UW (3-9 overall, 0-2 Mountain West) was unable to capitalize on a rare hot-second half shooting (58%) and a career night from sophomore forward Brandon Porter, who scored seven of his career-high 12 points in the game’s final 20 minutes. Maldonado scored 20 of his game-high 23 points in the second half Wednesday night, including 10 in a row for the Cowboys at one point.
UW trailed by eight points with just over 7 minutes left to play, but cut the deficit to just two by riding its defense and making timely shots. That’s when Porter hit a 3-pointer from the top of the arc to give the Pokes a 56-55 lead. Porter hadn’t scored more than six points in a game this season prior to Wednesday.
“I started to get a feel for the game. Our defense just led us up there,” Porter said. “We got stops.”
The Wolverines had an answer for each UW rally, however, matching every go-ahead basket the Cowboys made. Hunter Thompson tied the game with a free throw at 63, and Maldonado then followed it up with a floater with less than a minute remaining that gave UW a 67-65 lead. UVU free throws tied the game, and then the forgettable sequence from Maldonado and the Cowboys left UW and its fans in a state of shock.
“It hurts. But (Maldonado’s) human as well,” Edwards said. “I probably wouldn’t want anyone else in the scenario for us. We didn’t execute.”
Thompson scored the first eight points of the game for UW and finished the game with 17. Five of his seven made field goals came from inside the 3-point line, which is something Edwards has said he wanted to see more of from the forward. Wyoming shot 48.1% from the field in the game, the team’s highest mark since shooting nearly 53% in a loss to Air Force.
“Anytime the coach challenges you to be more physical, especially me, I take those challenges personally,” Thompson said.
Utah Valley was able to take advantage of what Edwards deemed “silly” fouls Wednesday night, particularly in the second half. The Wolverines hit 10 of 11 free throws in the second and 17 of 18 in the game. UW, meanwhile, hit just 69.2% of its shots from the charity stripe.
Senior guard Jake Hendricks, who suffered an elbow injury on his non-shooting arm against New Mexico, is a combined 2 of 11 over the last two games, including 0 for 6 against Utah Valley. Edwards said he doesn’t believe the elbow, which has been in a brace, is effecting his play.
“Teams do try to take him out because of his ability, so he might not get them in succession in a sense of his 3-point shots,” Edwards said. “But when they come, you have to be ready to make them for this team.”
UW travels to the University of Denver (4-9) on Saturday to face the Pioneers. The Cowboys then play a home game against Nebraska Wesleyan before the bulk of MW play begins in January.
A loss like Wednesday’s doesn’t sit well with any of the Cowboys or coaches. Yes, the team showed heart by clawing back when things were on the brink of spiraling out of control. But the key for UW, Edwards believes, is to not be in position where it has to depend on shots to fall. UW had its chances to pull away and ultimately didn’t seize them, Edwards said.
“I thought we got into an offensive battle, primarily in the second half,” Edwards said. “I did like the fight in our guys to get back in the game. … (but) we have to stop fighting to get back into games.
“I’m obviously disappointed. We had our opportunities to not only win the game but create separation. … (it’s) tough to swallow.”
WOLVERINES 69, COWBOYS 67
Utah Valley: Olojakpoke 1-2 0-0 2, Jardine 1-1 0-0 3, Washington 3-8 6-6 13, Averette 7-14 2-2 18, Woodbury 2-4 0-0 6, White 5-10 9-10 19, Overton 1-7 0-0 2, Havsa 1-1 0-0 2, Morley 2-2 0-0 4. Totals: 23-49 17-18 69
Wyoming: Thompson 7-11 1-2 17, Taylor 1-2 0-0 2, Hendricks 0-6 0-0 0, Banks 2-4 0-0 6, Maldonado 7-17 7-9 23, Marble 0-1 0-0 0, Milton 1-2 0-0 2, Porter 5-6 0-0 12, Mueller 1-1 0-0 2, Morman 0-0 0-0 0, Foster 1-2 1-2 3. Totals: 25-52 9-13 67
Halftime: UVU 31, UW 26. 3-pointers: UVU 6-15 (Woodbury 2-3, Averette 2-5, Jardine 1-1, Washington 1-3, White 0-3); UW 8-21 (Banks 2-3, Porter 2-3, Maldonado 2-4, Thompson 2-5, Milton 0-1, Foster 0-1, Hendricks 0-4). Rebounds: UVU 27 (White 9); UW 28 (Thompson 7, Maldonado 6). Assists: UVU 8 (Washington 3, Overton 2); UW 11 (Maldonado 4, Banks 3). Turnovers: UVU 8 (Averette 2); UW 10 (Thompson 3, Maldonado 3). Blocks: UVU 3 (three players with 1); UW 2 (Thompson, Maldonado). Steals: UVU 6 (Overton 3, White 2); UW 2 (Banks, Porter). Total fouls: UVU 18; UW 19. Fouled out: none. Officials: Verne Harris, Randy Heimerman, Marques Pettigrew. Attendance: 2,716