My three keys for Wyoming’s regular-season home-finale against Utah State, which starts at 7 p.m. MT Wednesday at the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie.
1. Perimeter defense: UW has lost four of its last six games, and in all of those losses they’ve allowed 10 3-pointers three times, and 11 in last Saturday’s loss at UNLV. Utah State shoots about 40 percent from behind the arc, and will have three or four guys on the floor most of the time that shoots between 40 and 50 percent. The Cowboys must do a better job defending the perimeter because if Utah State gets hot from long range, they will be in for a long night.
“Yeah, I think we’re a little out of rhythm. I think we getting back to where we were at the start of the year. We need to get tougher on the defensive end. Coach (Larry Shyatt) said we need to get tougher on the defensive end and I agree with him, we do.” — UW senior guard Riley Grabau
Here is my video preview of the game:
2. Smart play in the post: Redshirt freshman forward Alan Herndon may not play tonight due to knee tendinitis, which leaves UW with seniors Larry Nance Jr. and Derek Cooke Jr. Both must play well and smart, meaning they can’t get into foul trouble. Utah State forward David Collette is a concern. The probable freshman of the year in the Mountain West, Collette averages 11.9 points and five rebounds per game. He gave UW fits in its 56-44 loss at Utah State on Jan. 27.
3. Get back to what works: UW won 21 games in large part because it had a defense-first mentality and was efficient on offense. Even though UW is still 10th in the nation in scoring defense at 56 points per game, that mentality hasn’t been there the last six games. It’s fine if the Cowboys want to get out in transition a little more, but it must get back to what got them to the verge of competing for a conference title — a defense-first mentality.
“We need to get our mojo back. That’s what coaches have been preaching to us is to get back to being a defensive and tough team, and making teams hate playing us.” — senior forward Derek Cooke Jr.
A few other thoughts and notes on this game:
–It would be good if UW can get Nance off to a good start. Since returning from mononucleosis, Nance is 7 of 20 from the field in the last two games. Granted, teams will key on Nance first and foremost in order to beat the Cowboys. But there have been some shots that Nance normally makes that he hasn’t the last two games. It is understandable Nance isn’t 100 percent as he still recovers from mono, and UW’s recent struggles are not all on his shoulders. But he is the Cowboys’ best player, and they need him to play that way. A fast start from Nance and a strong finish would be a big boost.
–It will be interesting to see how the emotion of senior night impacts UW tonight. Obviously, there will be some emotion involved. Will the Cowboys use that to their advantage and come out hot, or will that emotion be too much and allow Utah State to click early on. The game is 40 minutes and UW must play well for all 40 of them to win, but how it responds early will be interesting. For more on UW’s seniors, and in particular walk-on point guard Jack Bentz, see Wednesday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Laramie Boomerang, and log on to wyosports.net.
–UW needs to shoot better at the free-throw line. It is 59 percent in its last six games. It also needs to get to the free-throw line more. In those last six games it has averaged nearly 10 made free throws per game, and it has gotten to the line 16.7 times.
–Junior guard Josh Adams has averaged 22.5 points over his last four games, and if anyone has benefitted from UW’s more aggressive approach to driving and attacking the basket, it’s been Adams. But he also has to watch the turnovers. In UW’s 56-44 loss at Utah State on Jan. 27 he had six turnovers.
–UW will be going for some impressive milestones and records tonight. If it wins, it will give it 17 home wins, the most in a season in school history. Coach Larry Shyatt is going after his 100th win at UW, and if he gets it he will be the fastest coach in school history to reach the 100-win mark.
–UW is 27-6 all-time against Utah State in Laramie, and has not lost to the Aggies in the Gem City since 1962.