Tuck’s 10 takes: Bradley with a major San Diego Statement in Laramie
LARAMIE -- Matt Bradley got the party started.
Trey Pulliam turned out the lights.
San Diego State hit 55% of its shots from beyond the arc and finished on a 6-0 run to send the Cowboys into a three-way tie for second place in the Mountain West with a 73-66 victory in front of 5,000-plus at the Arena-Auditorium Monday night.
The loss also put a dent in Wyoming's NCAA Tournament resume and snapped a 14-game winning streak in Laramie.
Bradley, the Aztecs leading scorer and the only player on the roster to average double-figures, netted a career-high 30 points and hit five 3-pointers. Pulliam provided the dagger after a late layup followed by a mid-range splash with 19 ticks remaining to all but dash the Cowboys' chances of winning a regular-season title with just two games to go.
How did Bradley do it?
"I mean, one, he's a really good player, but two, we wanted to push up and make him put it on the floor," Wyoming's second-year head coach Jeff Linder said. "We know that he likes to shoot those measured-threes and he shot a couple of them from pretty deep.
"... Give him credit. I mean, he made tough shots. It wasn't like there wasn't a guy right there. That's what a really good player does. He made some shots out by the logo."
Bradley connected on 4-of-5 from deep and netted 20 points in the first half. Hunter Maldonado couldn't stay with the senior guard. Neither could Noah Reynolds or Xavier DuSell.
"You can't really get frustrated," said Jeremiah Oden, who tied a career high with 17 points in the loss. "He's their leading scorer and a great player. Sometimes guys like that are just going to have nights. Tonight was one of those nights."
SDSU hit 10-of-14 triples in the first half. If you're keeping track at home, that's a blistering 71%. The visitors were also good inside the arc, hitting 54% of their shots over the first 20 minutes to take a seven-point lead into the locker room.
The Aztecs, known for their suffocating defense and mediocre offensive attack, hit the 70-point mark for just the 11th time this season. By comparison, Wyoming is 20-0 when they get to that magic number.
SDSU had just two players finish in double digits, but got a pair of threes from big man Keshad Johnson (he had just three of those all season) and three from Adam Seiko.
"They're college basketball players. They can hit wide-open threes," said Maldonado, who finished with a triple-double: 13 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. "We knew Matt Bradley could get hot, too. We have to go out there and be a little bit more dialed in during the first half. We needed to get to them sooner and force more contested shots."
Despite the lights-out shooting clinic from Bradley and Co., the Cowboys trailed by just one with 2:14 to go. Oden, who netted Wyoming's last nine points, did his part, but a late foul call on DuSell on a defensive rebound sent Nathan Mensah to the charity stripe.
The 6-foot-10 senior didn't miss.
Wyoming did miss, failing to find the cylinder on its final four shots.
The setback drops the Cowboys to 23-6 overall and 12-4 in conference play, tied in the loss column with Colorado State and SDSU. The Cowboys are now two games behind Boise State with a trip to UNLV in less than 48 hours and a home finale against Orlando Robinson and the Fresno State Bulldogs on Saturday in Laramie.
Here are some other tidbits and takeaways from this one:
* Graham Ike finished with just 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting. He added 10 boards for his 14th double-double of the season. Nice outing? Sure. An Ike outing? No way. SDSU collapsed on the 6-foot-9 freshman throughout the first half, forcing the ball out of his hands seemingly on every trip down the floor. That wasn't terrible news. Drake Jeffries nailed four 3-pointers and Oden added a pair. The Aztecs' forwards -- Mensah, Johnson and Joshua Tomaic -- held Ike to just four points in the first half with the help from some eager guards.
* For the second time in the last three games, Ike has toed the free-throw line just one time. It happened in Fort Collins. It happened again tonight. How does that even happen? "Next question," Linder said with a grin, before adding that the Cowboys can't rely on officiating to get points. True, but Ike was leading all of college basketball at getting to the line. Now? "It's very unbelievable," Oden said postgame. "I mean, he's getting killed down there. I'm no referee, but it looks like fouls to me." Me too, Jeremiah.
* Linder likes to say SDSU is the "standard of the Mountain West." They are. Not only have the Aztecs now beaten Wyoming eight straight times, they have claimed a regular-season title the same amount of times since joining the league in 1999. You can tack on six tournament championships and a trip to the Sweet 16 in 2011 and 2014. Linder pointed to the rebounding margin tonight -- SDSU finished with 40 compared to just 33 for the Cowboys -- as a reason this team consistently ends up in the win column in big games. "To give up 10 offensive rebounds and to give their two guards -- Pulliam and (Lamont) Butler -- five of those extra possessions is the difference between winning and losing when you're playing a team of that caliber. That's an older, mature team that's been through battles and they just stayed the course."
* With 9:14 remaining in the second half, Butler laid in a bucket and got caught up with Ike on the end line. Both ended up right next to the UW student section where a young man in the front row screamed in the face of Butler. He was promptly ejected by a nearby referee. Weird sequence there. Not condoning it, but not sure what you expect when the students are on the court?
* Wyoming hasn't had a player land a triple-double since 2006. That was Justin Williams, who scored 10, pulled down 15 rebounds and blocked 12 shots in a semifinals victory over Utah in the Mountain West Championships inside Denver's Pepsi Center. Maldonado's big night, in fact, marks just the third triple-double in UW basketball history. Theo Ratliff also did it in 1995, scoring 20 points, snagging 12 boards and rejecting 11 shots against SDSU. Maldonado's 11 assists also gives him 177 helpers on the season. Sean Dent holds the single-season record with 183 during the 1986-87 campaign.
* Tonight's game featured 49 combined 3-point attempts. The Aztecs sank 12-of-22 while the Pokes hit 10-of-27, four of which came off the right hand of Jeffries and three from Oden. That is the eighth time this season UW has hit double digits in that category. The dozen they allowed is also the most since Linder arrived on Campus in 2019.
* It will now take nothing short of a miracle for the Cowboys to claim a piece of the regular-season championship. Boise State hosts Nevada, a team with the second-worst defense in the conference, tomorrow night inside ExtraMile Arena. If the Broncos win, they will cut down the nets, hang a banner and own the No. 1 seed at the upcoming tournament in Las Vegas. If they don't, that will leave the door cracked for a potential wild finish to an already crazy regular season in this league. If -- and it's a gigantic if -- the Wolf Pack pulls off a stunner in potato town, we will revisit a whole host of scenarios. Wyoming, of course, needs to take care of business in its final two to even be in that equation.
* So, with title hopes all but gone, how is morale in the locker room? "It's fine," Maldonado said. "We're confident and we have been all season." Then the old man dropped some wisdom. "What are we -- 23-6? We've come a long way. We're still a really close team. We know over the course of these next two games and the Mountain West Tournament, we have to continue to be close because anything can happen. We still have a lot of season left." It's really hard to forget that this team was picked to finish tied for eighth place in the preseason. No need to jump off a cliff.
* Here's a stat you don't see every day from this UW team: Bench points, 12-11. The Cowboys have regularly been hammered in that category this season. The role players are starting to provide a spark. Brendan Wenzel and Reynolds both netted six tonight. They also added seven rebounds and a pair of assists. When this team puts it all together -- something they haven't done many times this season -- they could be really scary. We often talk about teams no one wants to see in Vegas. Wyoming is one of them. "The production definitely helps, but we have got to win the games as well," Linder said. "But, you know, we need those guys."
* Wyoming scorers: Oden 17, Jeffries 14, Maldonado 13, Ike 10, Wenzel 6, Reynolds 6
* Mountain West men's basketball standings
Boise State: 23-6, 14-2
Colorado State: 23-4, 13-4
Wyoming: 23-6, 12-4
San Diego State: 19-7, 11-4
UNLV: 17-12, 9-7
Fresno State: 17-10, 7-7
Utah State: 16-14, 7-10
Nevada: 12-15, 6-10
New Mexico: 12-17, 4-11
Air Force: 10-17, 3-13
San Jose State: 8-20, 1-15