Tuck’s Takes: Wyoming’s defense a no-show in Sin City
LAS VEGAS -- Before this game I was asked a simple question: Does Wyoming have a shot?
I said if Noah Reynolds scores 25 and Xavier DuSell hits at least five threes, the Cowboys have a great chance to come away with a rare win in Sin City. I even threw in the fact that for some reason Hunter Thompson loves facing the Rebels inside the Thomas & Mack Center.
In four career games in this building, the super senior is averaging nearly nine points per outing. Thompson has netted 8.6 points per game in eight overall meetings with UNLV, including 17 during his freshman season.
If all of that above happens, you have to like the visitor's odds.
Well, Reynolds scored 23. DuSell drained six triples. Thompson netted nine.
Wyoming still lost, 86-72.
I didn't account for a defensive no-show. I should've known better, too. The Rebels, led by Justin Webster, connected on 11-of-20 shots from beyond the arc. Entering this one, the Cowboys were ranked No. 269 out of 352 teams in three-point defense, allowing the opposition to shoot 35.3% from deep.
That number rose after this one.
Wyoming now sits at No. 303 in the nation in this all-important category. That number now sits at 36.1.
What is going on?
"It's just from a lack of concentration on a guy like Webster," Jeff Linder said of UNLV's senior guard, who hit 3-of-4 from the perimeter. "He's a guy that can't get attempts off. It's just a lack of concentration and being in the wrong spot."
Webster is now shooting nearly 48% from three.
"That's kind of been his team's M.O.," UW's third-year head coach added. "It's been death by 1,000 paper cuts."
UNLV used a machete Tuesday night.
Entering this one on a four-game losing streak, including setbacks in 6-of-7, the Rebels made it look way too easy against this Cowboys' defense, hitting 54% of their shots. Elijah Harkless, a senior transfer from Oklahoma, was 8-of-15 from the field and scored a game-high 28 points, including draining five straight free throws late in regulation. He was aided by a questionable call on DuSell from behind the three-point line and the technical foul on Linder that followed.
Six UNLV players shot 50% or better. Four finished in double figures, including Jordan McCabe (12 points) and Keyshawn Hall (10), who have combined for just five double-digit games all season.
"You're not going to change unless you have the ability to find ways to get better defensively," Linder said. "The reality is, it's the same defensive scheme that allowed us to win 25 games last year. It's the same defensive scheme that allowed us to be in the Top-75 in the country defensively last year. Right now, I mean, we're probably in the 300 range. So, you know, some of those guys in the locker room, at some point, they've got to hold each other accountable."
Last Saturday, DuSell did a masterful job guarding Colorado State's leading scorer Isaiah Stevens in a 58-57 victory. The combination of Nate Barnhart and Thompson limited Patrick Cartier to just 5-of-11 from the field. He was in the top-five in the country in field-goal percentage. John Tonje hit just three of his eight attempts and finished with just 12 points. Five of those came at the charity stripe.
Tonight in Vegas, it was a free-for-all.
Wyoming trailed by as many as 16 in the second half. To the Pokes' credit, they cut that massive lead to five twice down the stretch. Hunter Maldonado, DuSell and Reynolds (x2) connected on four straight triples at one point. But UNLV (13-7, 2-6) always seemed to have an answer -- and then some. Instead of patting his team on the back for the way they battled, Linder was realistic -- the fight isn't supposed to start when the score gets lopsided.
"(We didn't) have the level of urgency and desperation to get stops," he said. "I mean, unfortunately, that's where this team is at. I mean, if the team that showed up for Colorado State shows up here, then it's probably a different story, but that's the reason why our record is what it is. We just don't have the ability to have a consistent amount of effort that's required to win in a league where (there are) really good teams."
Linder questioned effort and pride when discussing this latest letdown. Those aren't words you want to hear from your head coach, especially 20 games into the season. We know about the injuries. We know who this team is missing. Wyoming (6-14, 1-7) used just eight players on Tuesday night. Offseason transfers Max Agbonkpolo and Jake Kyman never got off the bench. Caden Powell played two minutes. Barnhart, six.
Still, none of that has to do with try.
Linder often says he is OK with losing as long as the game is played the right way.
That didn't happen.
* Wyoming scorers: Reynolds 23, DuSell 18, Maldonado 11, Thompson 9, Anderson 8, Oden 3
* UNLV scorers: Harkless 28, Gilbert 12, McCabe 12, Hall 10, Webster 9, Nowell 6, Iwuakor 5, Parquet 4
* Wyoming has now given up double-digit triples in 4-of-8 conference games. Mountain West opponents have also hit at least eight threes in 6-of-8. Only Fresno State and CSU hit less.
* The Cowboys have given up at least eight triples in 12-of-20 games, including a season-high 12 against Boise State and San Diego State.
* DuSell has drained 8-of-16 triples over his last three games. He is hitting better than 40% from deep.
* Reynolds reached double figures for the 12th time this season.
* Maldonado went down with injuries twice in Las Vegas. Linder said postgame that he has not practiced since suffering a rib injury late in a home loss to Boise State. Wyoming doesn't play again until Jan. 31. Linder said Maldonado will likely be limited -- at best -- once again.
* Linder added that Brendan Wenzel is making progress after suffering a knee injury against SDSU. He also said Thompson is still limited after a long bout with mononucleosis.
* The Cowboys will host Fresno State next Tuesday night in Laramie. Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. and the game will be televised on FS1.
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