Cowboys must avoid outside distractions at San Jose State

A small arena where very few fans attend the games.

That sums up San Jose State’s home-court advantage in a nutshell, and what Wyoming faces when it plays there at 8 p.m. MT Wednesday.

Allen Edwards

Allen Edwards

For a minute, let’s take away what the Cowboys will face player-wise in this game. The Spartans’ home arena — The Event Center — is the smallest in the Mountain West at 5,000. Rarely is it half full. It resembles more of a high school gym than one for college basketball.

A couple of years ago when I covered a UW game there, the students were not back in school and the facilities crew didn’t have the heat turned on. It was down-right cold in there.

It’s not like playing in MW arenas like the Pit at New Mexico or Viejas Arena at San Diego State in terms of loud and abundant fans, but it presents a different challenge for many teams.

First-year UW coach Allen Edwards has seen that first-hand as an assistant for the Cowboys the previous five seasons. Wednesday’s game will be his first there as a head coach, and already knows one thing he has to be leery of.

“It’s a quiet gym, and it’s one of those games where you can’t get on (officials) becuase everyone hears you, and the (officials) take it personal when they feel like everyone hears you,” Edwards said.

Teams often have a tough time getting fired up to play there. There is little to no energy in the building. And, since joining the MW in the 2013-14 season, the Spartans haven’t been very good, in fact they’ve been bad.

But for UW, its surroundings in this game better be the furthest from its concerns. It better be focused on bouncing back from what Edwards described as their worst game of the season — an 89-74 home loss to Nevada last Saturday. And, it better be focused on an improved San Jose State team that is no longer the door mat of the MW.

San Jose State is 9-7 overall and 2-3 in the MW. It also is 6-3 at home. It did something UW couldn’t do — beat Fresno State. The Spartans won 69-62 at home earlier this season. The Cowboys lost 85-70 in Fresno. San Jose State also owns a road victory in the MW, which came last Saturday at Air Force. UW has yet to win a MW road game.

Brandon Clarke

Brandon Clarke

San Jose State has players, and some pretty good ones. Sophomore guard Brandon Clarke, at 6-foot-8, averages 17.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots per game. Guards Gary Williams Jr. and Jalen James are big and versatile. Ryan Welage and Cody Schwartz are sophomore posts who keep getting better, and the Spartans have as many as seven guys who come off the bench that contribute in a lot of different ways.

This isn’t the San Jose State of old where you can put that game in the win column if you’re the opposition. In fact, UW lost there last season 62-55, and its previous two wins there were by a combined 13 points.

Is it a good opportunity for the Cowboys (12-6, 2-3) to get their first road win in league play? Yes. But for that to happen, Edwards best described what needs to happen for his team.

“We have to play to our own identity,” he said. “We can’t worry about things we have no control over. To me when you have a love for the game you almost take it back to playing in the park as a kid — you just play and play hard.

“Atmosphere, the name of the team you’re playing, where they were picked (San Jose State was picked to finish last in the MW. UW was picked second-to-last) shouldn’t matter in what we’re trying to do.”

For more on what UW needs to do well to win Wednesday’s game in San Jose, see Wednesday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Laramie Boomerang, and log on to wyosports.net.