Tuck’s Takes: Pokes’ D Derails CSU in 58-57 Border War Win
LARAMIE -- Jeff Linder said this week it would take a total team effort to limit Isaiah Stevens.
True. And it did.
Colorado State's guard is a nuisance. From his lightning-fast first step to his finishing ability makes him one of the top players in the Mountain West Conference. Stevens' vision also sets him apart. In fact, the senior Saturday became the program's all-time assists leader.
A quick glance at the stat sheet would suggest Stevens had another one of his typical dynamic outings. He led the Rams with 15 points and flirted with a triple-double, pulling down 10 rebounds and dishing out seven helpers.
There was nothing typical about this outing for CSU's star.
Wyoming's sophomore guard spent his Saturday afternoon in Stevens' hip pocket, shadowing the Texas native, never more than a few feet away aside from a few -- very few -- successful ball screens in the second half.
Stevens attempted just 11 shots in this one. Consider this. In a loss to San Diego State last Wednesday in Fort Collins, he put up 17. In back-to-back outings against Air Force and UNLV, that number reached 22.
Niko Medved relies on Stevens to carry the load offensively.
DuSell had other plans.
"X made him work for everything he got," Linder said. "I mean, I think X played 36 minutes and pretty much matched his minutes. I thought that played a big part."
This showdown alone was worth the price of admission as Wyoming held on late for a 58-57 victory in the 239th meeting of the annual Border War, snapping an eight-game losing skid and vaulting its overall record against its neighbor to the south to 138-101.
As Stevens' frustration grew, so did the crowd noise in what was easily the best-attended game of a so-far forgettable season inside the Arena-Auditorium.
Stevens, who averaged nearly 19 points per game, netted just six in the opening frame. DuSell forced him into a turnover at the top of the key with less than 10 minutes to go that turned into an easy Ethan Anderson lay in at the other end. That contributed to a 10-0 run from the Cowboys to go along with a commanding 31-16 lead.
DuSell didn't just make life miserable on the defensive end, he had a few answers on the offensive end of the floor, too.
Early in the second half, the Arizona product sank a triple to put a halt to an 8-0 CSU run. Stevens repaid the favor on the following possession. DuSell again matched him on the other end.
Stevens finally found the bottom of the net with 13:50 remaining in the first half. That pesky DuSell drilled a three at the other end.
"He's going to get his points no matter what, because of how many shots he takes," Hunter Maldonado said of Stevens. "I mean, he's a great player. (I have) a lot of respect toward him. But yeah, he almost flirted with a triple-double again, but X did an amazing job. I can't say enough about that.
"And that's all coming down to who X is as a person and the willpower he has to be able to guard him for 40 minutes."
The spotlight is on DuSell, and rightfully so, but this Wyoming team finally came together on the defensive end in league play after late lapses against Fresno State, New Mexico, SDSU and Air Force.
CSU averages nearly 76 points per game. At half, the visitors had 21.
Linder said one of the most important aspects of a game doesn't even appear on the stat sheet -- "kills." That means the opponent comes away empty on three consecutive offensive possessions.
The Cowboys forced eight of those in this one.
"Louisiana Tech might be the last time," Linder said, referring to the last time his team forced that many kills in a game. Coincidentally, UW rolled to an easy 92-65 win that December day in Laramie. That was the Pokes last victory, which came 41 days ago. "At least those guys recognize that's where winning lies ... If you can get seven or eight, I mean, usually that's going to equate to a win."
This game will likely be remembered for Wyoming blowing a 16-point second-half lead, going down by as many as three and surviving after Noah Reynolds sank a game-clinching free throw after being fouled in the lane with 2.6 ticks remaining.
That's fine -- and true.
Here are a few other talking points, though.
As scary -- and downright ugly -- as it got, this team finally closed out a game. It withstood runs of 8-0, 15-0 and 7-0. Anderson put this team on his back in the latter stages, hitting two crucial buckets in the paint. Linder put his trust in Reynolds to get the Cowboys (6-13, 1-6) in the win column on the final possession. He's a sophomore.
The Rams' (10-11, 2-6) second-half comeback was aided by a UW scoring drought that extended more than seven minutes. The defense kept them in it.
"For our guys to stick together was great," Linder said. "It's a game of runs. We really controlled the game offensively and defensively in the first half and then they flipped the script in the second half. But our guys stuck together and found a way to win the game. That is what this team needed was to find a way to win a game. That spark will hopefully allow us to push forward."
* Wyoming scorers: Noah Reynolds 17, Ethan Anderson 13, Xavier DuSell 9, Hunter Maldonado 7, Hunter Thompson 6, Nate Barnhart 4, Jeremiah Oden 2
* Attendance: 6,968
* Wyoming used its 14th different starting lineup -- Anderson, Thompson, DuSell, Maldonado, Reynolds -- of the season Saturday against CSU. That's through 19 games.
* For the first time in Mountain West play, the Cowboys held their opponent under 40% shooting. The Rams hit 37.4%.
* CSU hit just five triples in this one. That's the second fewest UW has allowed this season. Saint Marys and Boston College both finished with three.
* Reynolds reached double figures for the 11th time this season in this one. He's now done that 12 times in his UW career.
* Maldonado dished out five assists Saturday. That's the 45th time in his career he has done that.
* Hunter Maldonado (ribs) and Hunter Thompson (mononucleosis) both returned to the lineup against CSU. Jake Kyman (undisclosed) did not play against the Rams. Graham Ike lower leg), Kenny Foster (back) and Brendan Wenzel (knee) were also in street clothes for this one.
* Wyoming will travel to Sin City Tuesday to take on UNLV. Tipoff is slated for 9 p.m. and the game will be televised on CBS Sports Network.
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