LAS VEGAS, Nev., -- In a nearly vacant arena four days ago in California's Central Valley, Jeff Linder's ragtag group of misfits finally put together a complete 40-minute game.

Wyoming rolled to an easy 39-point victory that afternoon.

KOWB 1290 logo
Get our free mobile app

The frontcourt foursome of Mason Walters, Cam Manyawu, Caden Powell and even Oleg Kojenets, helped hand Fresno State the worst conference loss in its history, sinking 35 combined points on 16-of-23 shooting in the rout. Those guys also pulled down 25 boards and dished out six assists.

Those very same Cowboys -- minus Manyawu, who sat helplessly and inexplicably on the bench for more than 31 minutes Wednesday afternoon -- managed to blow a late nine-point lead as those very same Bulldogs -- plus a 16-point performance from Donavan Yap Jr. -- closed out an opening round Mountain West Tournament upset with a 12-1 run.

What happened?

And why on earth was the Cowboys' best big man rotting away on the sidelines?

"Well, just in terms of the flow of the game and you could tell that -- Cam has had a couple of those moments as a freshman," Linder said minutes after the 77-73 stunner in Sin City. "When you get in a conference tournament setting, when the lights are a little bit brighter -- and not to say that he was scared -- but you could just tell he was a little bit off."

Manyawu played just five minutes of the first half after picking up a pair of early fouls. Understandable, especially with Wyoming's lead growing to 10 just before the half. The rookie from Kansas City drew another whistle at the 13:07 mark of the second frame. Linder substituted for him 33 seconds later.

His night was over.

Linder said the Bulldogs utilized a smaller lineup. He matched that. Yes, Yap made a major difference, but Wyoming got away from the formula that worked last Saturday in Fresno.

That same Cowboys' forward group -- minus Kojenets, who didn't see the floor -- capped this outing with 12 points, 17 rebounds and six giveaways.

Manyawu attempted just one shot from the field in Las Vegas. All three of his points came at the free-throw line. He turned the ball over one time.

How did he feel about his front-row seat in this first-round ouster?

"I mean, first half, I was in foul trouble," he said when asked about playing just eight minutes. "Second half, I came in and I struggled. So, I mean, I understand. You know, it wasn't my day. I was hoping that I would get another chance at it tomorrow, but we just weren't able to do it."

Maybe with Manyawu in the lineup Leo Colimerio doesn't have a second-chance put back at the rim to give the 'Dogs a 75-73 lead with 21 ticks remaining? Maybe Wyoming doesn't get outscored in the paint, 32-20? Maybe the Cowboys don't get outrebounded by five?

Better yet, how about letting Manyawu work through some growing pains?

The 18-year-old is arguably the most talented player on this roster. He averaged nearly eight points and seven rebounds a night. He racked up seven double-doubles. The 6-foot-9 forward also gets to the line. He's attempted 18 free throws over the last four games, including four more against Fresno State.

Manyawu should be the face of this program next season.

That's if he's coming back.

"Yeah, I plan to," he said postgame.

There are many reasons Wyoming lost this one. Missing 11 free throws is a culprit. So are turnovers -- nine in the second half -- along with a poor shooting performance over the final 20 minutes. The Cowboys made just 10 baskets in that timeframe, including just two in the first 10 minutes. Extended scoring droughts again buried this team.

Credit the Bulldogs, too.

Justin Hutson's program got flat embarrassed last Saturday. They had no answers on either side of the floor. It was a lifeless outing, one that more times than not gets a coach a pink slip.

It was that bad.

The addition of Yap was huge, but Isaiah Pope was the engine -- and heart. He netted 22 points before fouling out with 4:29 remaining. His teammates picked him up. Yes, that includes ex-Cowboy Xavier DuSell, who picked Brendan Wenzel's pocket on Wyoming's final offensive possession.

That led to a pair of free throws. That was the ultimate dagger.

"We just weren't getting stops," Wenzel said. "It's my fault, too. I had a lot of fouls. I wasn't making shots either. I don't know. It's tough. They had offensive rebounds, they made free-throws, we didn't. It all comes down to the little things. That turnover at the end that I had, you just can't have things like that if you want to win."

Linder echoed those same sentiments, adding Hutson and Co. were going to have their team ready to play.

They did.

"In the postseason, it just comes down to possessions," he said. "It's the little things within the possession -- the 50/50 balls, deflections -- those are the things that add up."

So, where do the Cowboys go from here?

Akuel Kot, Sam Griffin and Walters have all exhausted their eligibility. Kenny Foster and Wenzel both have a COVID-19 year at their disposal. Do they use that in Laramie? Do they leave via the NCAA Transfer Portal?

Who else is hitting the road? You know it's coming, it's just a matter of who.

Linder knows that, too.

"It's obviously a new world. You are constantly adapting to it," Linder said. "Hopefully it won't be last year where you have to go out and get 10 new guys, but obviously we're going to have to add a few pieces. We'll have to continue to get the guys that do stay, we just have to continue to get those guys better. That's the biggest thing in this day and age, the insanity that's college basketball, is that, yeah, can you have the ability to retain guys?

"The ability to retain to where they can develop the discipline, the habits and the effort that's required to put yourself in a position to really compete for championships."

That all needs to start and end with Manyawu.

UW: University of Wyoming Cowboys’ Greatest Games From the First Decade of the 2000’s

More From KOWB 1290