My three takes from Wyoming’s 67-65 win over Utah State in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Tournament Thursday at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
1. Charles in charge: Senior guard Charles Hankerson Jr. silenced a lot of his critics with a career-high 16 points on 6 of 12 shooting. Hankerson also had five rebounds. Yes, he missed two free throws late that would have sealed the game in the final seconds, but his shooting and slashing to the basket were two of the biggest factors in UW’s win. At the time, no one other than junior guard Josh Adams was consistently scoring, and Hankerson’s offense not only gave UW a boost, but sparked other guys like senior forward Larry Nance Jr. and senior guard Riley Grabau — who all scored in double figures.
2. Adams’ A-game: A game-high 19 points to go along with six assists and only two turnovers. In his last two games against Utah State, Adams has 37 points, 14 assists and two turnovers. He was aggressive with the ball, had some spectacular plays around the basket, including a follow-up dunk in the second half that had him trending nationally on Twitter for a while, and also part of ESPN SportsCenter’s Top Plays. When Adams plays like that, UW is more than formidable. He will be tested in Friday night’s semifinals as he likely will be guarding Boise State senior guard Derrick Marks, the Mountain West Player of the Year.
Here is coach Larry Shyatt, Adams, Nance and Hankerson after the game:
3. Finish stronger: In a game that featured five ties and 16 lead changes, UW was impressive with an 11-2 run in the final minutes to secure the win. But the Cowboys struggled to knock down free throws in the final seconds, and Utah State made a couple of 3-pointers to give it at least a three-quarter court heave at the buzzer to win. I don’t want to take away the play of the first 39 minutes, but if the semifinal game is close near the end against the No. 25 team in the nation and the tournament’s top seed in Boise State, UW will need to finish stronger.
Here are a couple of late-game highlights from the game:
A few other notes and quotes:
–UW was dominant in the paint with 38 points, compared to 24 for Utah State. The Aggies countered with 10 3-pointers. The Cowboys have allowed 10 or more 3s in five of their last 10 games.
–An overlooked aspect of the Cowboys’ success was the 10 rebounds by senior forward Derek Cooke Jr. There was a sequence early in the game where he had two offensive rebounds, and capped it off with a basket. UW was even with Utah State on the glass at 31.
–UW had runs of 12-0 and 11-2 in the second half. Utah State led by as many as seven at 41-34 with 14:37 to play.
–“It’s an honor just to be out there in the fight with your teammates against another team where they’re all in it as well. That competitive edge is what the sport is all about. it’s just an honor to be out there.” — Adams.
–“We had hoped to come in here and try to win the tournament like every other team that comes here. We felt like if we got to the finals we might be a candidate in the NIT. The NCAA and NIT are basically out. At this point we just feel like it’s best for these kids to concentrate on their academics and get ready for a new coach, rather than play in any other events like the CIT or CBI. We will not be pursuing those.” — Utah State coach Stew Morrill, who announced earlier this season he would retire at season’s end. Utah State finished with an 18-13 record and was the MW Tournament’s fifth seed.
–Morrill was presented with tickets for a cruise to the Bahamas for he and his wife that the coaches around the league chipped in for. Added Morrill: “I’ve joked that if would have known people were going to be so nice to me I would have retired three or four years ago.”
–UW improved to 9-15 all-time at the MW Tournament and 7-6 in the quarterfinals. It will play in the semis for the first time since 2009. Friday’s game with Boise State will be UW’s first in the tournament, and the Cowboys will try to reach only its second MW title game. Their first was in 2006.
–“We’re two games away from reaching the NCAA Tournament. If that’s not enough to keep these guys focused, I don’t know what is. I would hate to put a cap on (this season) right now. I do believe this team can do it.” — senior forward Larry Nance Jr.
For more on the game, see the Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Laramie Boomerang and log on to wyosports.net.