Tuck’s 10 takes: Ike’s outing continues ‘court-storming’ season
LARAMIE -- The second-half game plan was a simple one.
"Get the ball to him and get the hell out of the way," Wyoming's second-year head coach Jeff Linder said with a smile after the Cowboys outlasted Boise State 72-65 Thursday night in front of 7,063 inside the Arena-Auditorium. "That's really pretty much what we did."
Him, of course, is Graham Ike.
The raucous student section, yeah, for a second straight game they streamed on the court to celebrate this one.
But back to the star of the show.
The freshman from Aurora, Colo., scored a game-high 33 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in the win. Twenty of those came in a dominant second half where Ike made life miserable for Tyson Degenhart, Mladen Armus, Lukas Milner and any other Bronco who dare get in his way.
Entering tonight, Leon Rice's bunch was ranked sixth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 58 points per night.
That all changed in this one.
Ike hit 12-of-23 shots from the field and sank 9-of-15 from the charity stripe. Imagine what his point total could've been?
"I mean, it goes without saying -- he's a special player," Linder said.
"He's a handful," Boise State's head coach said. "His ball goes in and he's aggressive. In this place, he gets a lot of free throws. I mean, that's been consistent. He gets 15 free throws -- that's a tough thing. We were running some different guys at him, different coverages. He's becoming a better and better player as the season goes on."
Abu Kigab, who led the Broncos with 26 points, said they couldn't shut Ike's "water off"
"It's definitely really hard to defend him," he said. "I thought we had a pretty good game plan, but he played a hell of a game. Give him credit."
In the first meeting between these two Mountain West heavyweights nine days ago, Linder admitted that he maybe should've gotten Ike more involved down the stretch. Boise State held off the Cowboys, 65-62, handing Linder and Co. their only conference loss of the season.
Ike finished with 19 points, only five of which came in the final 20 minutes despite Armus sitting on the bench in foul trouble.
He wasn't going to let that happen again -- Linder or Ike.
"You know, what can I say really? Coach draws up the right plays, you know, and if they keep doubling, we'll keep kicking it out," Ike said. "We just keep playing ping pong with the guy at the top, you know?"
Ike smiled when he was referred to as the "closer."
He was quick to point out he's not alone, though.
"I'm just really grateful for this team and how much we stick together and how much we really love each other," he said. "That's what really helps us win these close games."
Wyoming is now 18-3 overall and 7-1 in conference play, joining the Broncos (17-5, 8-1) atop the Mountain West standings. The win snaps a 14-game winning streak -- the nation's longest -- and a nine-game losing streak in the series.
The Cowboys will travel to Fresno State to take on Orlando Robinson and the Bulldogs Sunday evening in the Save Mart Center. UW has 10 games remaining in the regular season -- five at home, five on the road.
But first, they are going to enjoy this one.
Remember, Linder coached at Boise State from 2010-16. He downplayed the magnitude of beating a mentor, but make no mistake, this was important to him.
"It's a little bit of a monkey off the back," he said with a grin.
Here are some other takeaways from this one:
* Jeremiah Oden had a feeling it might just be his night. It's easy to see why he thought that, too. His first shot of the night -- from beyond the arc -- banked in, giving the Cowboys an early 5-2 lead. His second attempt from deep hit the rim and bounced straight up and in. Oden added two more field goals on the night, including a spin-around jumper in the lane and a power move on the baseline where he flew past two defenders and laid it up and in and drew contact. Linder called him the "X-Factor" after his 12-point performance in a win over Border War rival Colorado State. The truth is, he has sparked this team in all of these last three wins. When the freshman forward is hitting from deep -- he's 4-of-9 during that timeframe -- it just opens up more floor for Maldonado and Ike to do their thing. "He's been playing amazing," Ike said of Oden. "This has been a big boost because he's hitting the long ball, so now they got to step out a little bit ... I'll just kick it out to him and he'll make the right play. I have full confidence that he'll knock it down." Oden scored just two points in the first meeting with the Broncos. So, what changed tonight? "(The coaches) said they need more out of me, they need consistency out of me," Oden said. "I'm just going on my own time and really getting my mental together and just getting my confidence together. I'm just trying to be the best player I can be for this team."
* Drake Jeffries was held scoreless in the first half Thursday night, but that doesn't mean he wasn't chipping in. He racked up three rebounds, took a charge and even blocked a shot in the paint. And who can forget him diving through the front row to save a loose ball? Do the Cowboys need him to pitch in offensively? Absolutely. But he's not one to sulk because the buckets aren't falling. Over the final 20 minutes, the Illinois product netted five points, including a triple to break a 57-57 tie. He also pulled down 10 rebounds, tying Ike for the team lead in that category. On the defensive end of the floor, Jeffries held Marcus Shaver Jr. to just nine points on 4-of-9 shooting. That guy averages nearly 13 a night. "Those are college rebounds, I mean, where he was getting those at the rim," Linder said. "That's what you have to do in a game like that against a team like that ... He just can't come unglued from him. He did a really good job of just staying right there with Shaver, knowing that Shaver down the stretch over the last four or five games has made big shot after big shot. Thankfully, we found a way to get him to miss some shots tonight."
* Tyson Degenhart is going to be a star in the Mountain West Conference. Heck, he already is. The 6-foot-7, 232-pound forward averaged nearly 10 points per game, but it's his versatility that makes him so special. Guard Ike? Sure, no problem. Step out and hit a shot? Bang in the paint? Kid does it all. Degenhart is surely going to the be the league's Freshman of the Year. He's already earned the weekly honor five times this season. Boise State is one of the oldest teams in the country, featuring six seniors. This kid, unfortunately for the rest of the conference, has a very bright future ahead. Tonight, the Washington native fouled out with 4:23 left in the second half. He finished with 13 points and five rebounds. He was 3-for-6 from beyond the arc.
* Linder harped on rebounding and protecting the basketball all week long. He knows how effective Boise State's transition game can be. Tonight, the Cowboys out-boarded the visitors, 35-33. The Broncos did have a 10-5 advantage on the offensive glass, but Linder pointed to the fact they didn't snag a single one of those over the final 10 minutes of play. Both teams turned the ball over just six times.
* Armus is a load in the paint. However, foul trouble once again forced him to watch 11 minutes of the first half from the Broncos' bench. In the second frame, he played just 10. During the first meeting between these two, the 6-foot-10 Serbian finished with just eight points and played only 20 minutes. In that 65-62 setback inside ExtraMile Arena, Ike was unable to take advantage of the Armus' foul trouble. Linder barely went inside during the second half. That wasn't the case in this one. Tonight, Armus finished with more fouls (4) than points (3). Turns out Ike is pretty good on the defensive end, too.
* I wrote a feature earlier in the day, saying that Maldonado needs to be in the conversation for Mountain West Player of the Year. Are you a believer yet? The redshirt junior was up to his old tricks against Boise State, backing down Boise State guards and weaving and spinning to the rack. He led the Cowboys with eight points in the first half and finished with 16 on the night. He didn't need to be the team's top scorer in this one. Ike took care of that. Maldonado needed the break anyway after netting 66 points in back-to-back wins over Air Force and Colorado State.
* I'm willing to bet Emmanuel Akot has seen enough of the Pokes. Boise State's senior guard has put up a pair of miserable offensive performances against the Cowboys this seasons, scoring just seven total points, including only two tonight. Akot averages more than 11 points per game. Credit Maldonado for those woes.
* Bench scoring, once again, was all but nonexistent tonight for the Cowboys. After being outscored 25-7 by Colorado State Monday night, UW's reserves were even more of a non-factor in this game, pitching in with two points, both Xavier DuSell free throws. I asked Linder during his weekly press conference if he needed to get more out of his bench down the stretch. He didn't seem too concerned. "We'll take kind of what the defense gives us and how they're playing us, but, you know, there are guys that we do have come off the bench and I know they're capable of scoring baskets and making plays," he said. Capable, yes. But the proof is in the pudding. Those guys aren't chipping in. Wyoming needs that more than ever with Fresno State and Utah State on the horizon.
* Wyoming moves to 10-0 inside the friendly confines of the Arena-Auditorium which is slowly but surely regaining its infamous reputation as one of the toughest venues to play at in the country. Two of the top teams in the league-- CSU and Boise State -- have felt the wrath of more than 14,000 fans who have come through these turnstiles this week. Cowboy basketball is officially fun again, if you're just joining us.
* Who would've thought either one of these teams would reach the 70-point mark tonight. In the first meeting, neither got out of the 60's. It appeared another defensive struggle was on the docket. That is until Ike stole the Broncos' lunch money. When the Cowboys hit that number above, they are now 16-0 on the season.
* Wyoming scorers: Ike 31, Maldonado 16, Oden 13, Jeffries 5, Wenzel 3, DuSell 2
* Mountain West standings:
Boise State: 17-5, 8-1
Wyoming: 18-3, 7-1
San Diego State: 12-5, 4-2
Colorado State: 16-3, 6-3
Fresno State: 15-6, 5-3
UNLV: 13-9, 5-4
Utah State: 14-9, 5-5
Nevada: 9-10, 3-5
Air Force: 10-10, 3-6
New Mexico: 8-14, 1-8
San Jose State: 7-14, 0-9