Defense leads way for Wyoming
LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — Allen Edwards found it surprising his team had set a Wyoming record for points scored in his first year as head coach, even though he considered himself a defense-first coach.
Wednesday, it was the defense that kept the Cowboys’ season alive.
Wyoming, which also set a program this year for 3-pointers made, made just three 3-pointers Wednesday, but advanced to the CBI championship next week series nonetheless with a 74-68 defeat of Utah Valley.
“I mean, to be honest with you, I didn’t even know we only made three 3s,” sophomore Justin James said. “Because we always just play our game. We take the shots that the defense gives us. In the second half, the main thing we were focused on was defending. We did a great job of defending, so we didn’t really notice the 3s, because we were defending so well, and that’s what kept the score tight. If we keep defending like that, we’ll be all right.”
Wyoming’s 15 3-point attempts Wednesday were the Cowboys’ fewest all season. Their three made 3-pointers were their fewest in nearly two months. The Pokes also made three Jan. 28 against Boise State in Laramie.
The semifinal ended a string of 11 consecutive games in which Wyoming hit 10 or more 3-pointers, the team’s longest such streak in the Mountain West era. During that run, the Cowboys were shooting 41.9 percent from behind the arc. Compare that to their previous nine games, when Wyoming hit just 25.0 percent of its 3s. Perhaps not coincidentally, Wyoming went 6-5 in the former stretch and 3-6 in the latter.
“I thought earlier in the year, if we had had a night like this, heads would’ve been down, body language wouldn’t have been great,” Edwards said. “Maybe not as positive on the bench or at least believing in the . positivity coming from the bench, believing in that. So for it to happen and us to stay the course, I think it just shows growth with the young men in the program.”
Wyoming, the 22nd-best team in the country in field goal percentage defense, has held opponents to 35.5 percent field-goal shooting and 26 percent 3-point shooting the last two games.
Edwards said the team’s goal was to allow six or fewer made 3s. Wyoming accomplished that, despite allowing three 3s in 69 seconds as Utah Valley made a furious second-half comeback.
“During that stretch I just thought it was them playing in transition,” Edwards told the Casper Star-Tribune (http://bit.ly/2mzCnCq). “Outside (that), the whole night, I felt like they maybe got four or five open looks, I thought, where they were just open. ... I mean, it was a (game) where I thought our guys were running, scrambling and really on-edge about taking away the 3-point line. So at the end of the day, yes, I was happy.”
James, Wyoming’s leading scorer despite not starting a game before the CBI, has been the Cowboy with the ball in his hand more often than not in close late-game scenarios. Wednesday, Wyoming had to do without him. James, who scored a game-high 16 points, fouled out with 1:36 to go.
He had scored Wyoming’s last four points at that point, all on free throws. The last one, made with 2:23 to play, turned out to be the winning point, but the Cowboys were still in need of some insurance.
“J.J. has kind of stepped up into that scoring leader (role),” Edwards said. “But even when that happened, I thought he was great on the bench, encouraging, telling guys about defense, talking about how we’re going to win this. But at the same time, we’re still balanced enough to where we can still score the basketball.”
Edwards’ game plan was to put the ball in the hand of Lou Adams, who had found success throughout the game in getting to the rim. Edwards didn’t want Wyoming settling for a jump shot. He got his wish, though it ended up being Jason McManamen scoring on a layup, giving the Cowboys a three-point lead and himself 1,000 career points.
“We play this game with all 15,” James said. “Even the guys who don’t even play, their energy and their attitude on the bench, this is a team thing. From the players to the staff, we play together, and that’s what we did.”
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com