Shyatt presser quick thoughts

Kind of thought it was odd to hold a press conference for a new basketball coach in the suites in the football stadium, but there was a huge crowd for Larry Shyatt’s introductory news conference Wednesday in the Wildcatter Suites atop War Memorial Stadium. In fact, you could say it was standing room only.

As Shyatt and his wife, Pam, were introduced by athletics director Tom Burman, the UW band played “Ragtime Cowboy Joe” and the Shyatts entered with a standing ovation. They also left the same way.

Thought it was touching that early in his talk, Shyatt got a little emotional about coming back to Wyoming. Say what you want about the guy and the fact he left once for another job and a lawsuit came up over his buyout, but Shyatt seems genuilly happy and humbled to be back. Shyatt isn’t a phoney, and he wouldn’t pretend to get emotional if that’s not how he really felt.

Shyatt told me “a couple of players” will leave, but wouldn’t say who. Not counting those players, UW currently has two scholarships to give and looks like it will have four or five. Sophomore forward Brian Gibson won’t return and forward Djibril Thiam was a senior.

Most of the current players were there, but three were not, most notably juniors-to-be Desmar Jackson and Amath M’Baye. For more on that, see my column/analysis in Thursday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle www.wyomingnews.com and Laramie Boomerang www.laramieboomerang.com

Senior forward Afam Muojeke said he’s excited about the hire. He also told me he should be cleared to start running on his surgically repaired knee in a week or so. Good news on both fronts.

Senior forward Leonard Washington, the USC transfer who sat out last season, said he’s coming back. He doesn’t have a lot of options to go anywhere, but he vaults to the top in terms of UW’s best player — especially if Jackson and/or M’Baye don’t return.

UW sophomore guard Joe Hudson on the Shyatt hiring: “I think it’s going to be a good fit with him. He sounds like a good guy and a good coach.”

Assistant coach Jeremy Shyatt, Larry’s oldest son, on the current players: “They are the most coachable group with the best attitudes I have ever been around. Everything is going to be new, and our jobs have been made a lot easier because they have great attitudes.”

Associated head coach Scott Duncan on coming back to  UW with Larry Shyatt: “Not often in life do you get to do a journey and a challenge with yoru best friend and his family. Larry and I have been best friends for 26, 27 years and coached a bunch of different schools together. We are at a point in our careers where we looked at each other and said ‘lets do this. We had a lot of fun the last time we were here.’ ”

Duncan on the pressure to have instant success this coming season like he and Shyatt did in 1996-97: “We’re not going to be very patient. We’re want to get this thing turned as quickly as possible, but do it the right way so we can sustain it so it can be at that level for years to come. The first two years are going to be important. We’re going to have to retool the roster and get lucky with some players and take some hard work.”

Shyatt on what he told his players: “Nothing what you’ve done up to this point matters to coach Shyatt. Everything you do from now on, from your academics, to your passion, to your value system and and lastly your basketball abilities. I like the group. I like their openess.”

Shyatt on the current roster: “We need some pieces. “It’s not a mastepiece yet. It’s baby steps. Lets jsut make sure those steps are forwards an not backwards.”

Cowboys season comes to a close

Not the way the Wyoming men’s team wanted to end its season.

But it was a familiar one.

Eighth-seeded UW lost to ninth-seeded TCU 70-61 in Wednesday’s play-in game at the Mountain West Conference Tournament here at the Thomas & Mack Center.

UW finished 10-21 for the second straight season, and lost the play-in game at this event for the third time in the last four years.

The Cowboys showed their typical weaknesses: poor shooting, poor defense and poor ball security.

They shot 37.5 percent, including 27.6 percent in the first half. They made three field goals in the first 13 minutes of the game.

They committed 17 turnovers, which resulted in 19 TCU points.

TCU shot 48.3 percent and 54.5 percent in the second half. The Horned Frogs made 5 of 10 3-pointers, and all but four of their points came from their starters.

But for as poorly as UW played, it only trailed 27-24 at halftime and took the lead at 42-41 with 13:26 to play. But TCU went on runs of 9-0 and 7-1 after that to put the game away.

“They got the lead on us in the second half and we panicked a little bit,” interim coach Fred Langley said. … “To TCU’s credit they reacted quickly. When they did that I think we took a punch and it kind of stunned us.”

A lot of the questions with Langley and the players quickly turned to the future. See my game story in Thursday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle www.wyomingnews.com and Laramie Boomerang www.laramieboomerang for more on that.

Although he didn’t come out for the post-game interview session, I asked sophomore guard Desmar Jackson about his future at UW after this season prior to the team’s arrival here.

“I haven’t made any decisions yet,” he said.

Pokes confident heading into play-in game

The Wyoming men’s basketball team is at least saying the right things heading into today’s play-in game with TCU here at the Mountain West Conference Tournament in Las Vegas.

“The feeling that’s going on is positive. We think we can win. We’re going in with the mindset to win,” sophomore guard Desmar Jackson said.

This will be the Cowboys’ third play-in game in the last four years, and they’ve lost their previous two including a humbling 59-40 loss to Air Force last year.

“I think there are some pretty sour memories of the play-in game last year,” sophomore forward Amath M’Baye said. “I think everybody here is ready for this game and I think we will be better prepared for this game and this team will have a different mentality.”

See Wednesday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle www.wyomingnews.com and Laramie Boomerang www.laramieboomerang.com for more on this game, and on how the Cowgirls hope to end their MWC Tournament woes this year.

Also, live blog links are above this story for today’s UW men’s and women’s games. Hope you will join me.

No Cowboys on MWC all-conference teams

It can’t come as a big surprise that no Wyoming men’s basketball players made the first, second or third All-Mountain West Conference teams that were released Monday. You don’t get a lot a all-conference players when you’re 10-20 and 3-13 in league play.

But I thought sophomore guard Desmar Jackson would make the third team. He was a third team pick last season and was the league’s Freshman of the Year where he averaged 11.8 points per game and and 44 steals. As a sophomore Jackson was fifth in the league in scoring (14.7 ppg) and was second with 61 steals. He also was 12th in the MWC in rebounding (4.9 rpg).

Jackson and sophomore forward Amath M’Baye both earned honorable mention All-MWC honors. M’Baye played like an all-conference player in the second half of the conference season as he averaged 16.7 points per game over the last seven contests. He scored 10 points or more 20 times, but M’Baye didn’t do enough early in the season, at least in the eyes of the voters (which consisted of coaches and select media) to get into the first three teams.

I was one of those media members that voted. I had Jackson on the third team. TCU, which is 10-21 and 1-15 in the MWC got point guard Hank Thorns on the third team. He leads the MWC in assists at seven per game.

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Couldn’t be happier for UW women’s players Hillary Carlson and Aubrey Vandiver. Both were first team All-MWC picks, and Vandiver was the Player of the Year.

Two great players that need to play great in the tournament.

Congrats ladies!

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A couple of quotes from the final MWC coaches’ teleconference Monday:

“Players pretty much understand what BYU is and they come here because of that.” — Dave Rose on if he thinks BYU’s recruiting will be hurt or made harder with the dismissal of sophomore post Brandon Davies last week.

“I have no idea.” — UNLV’s Lon Kruger on if playing the MWC Tournament on the Rebles’ home floor at the Thomas & Mack Center will help his team. Here’s a clue coach, yes it will!!

“For the first time we know whether we win or not we’ll be in the (NCAA) Tournament.” — San Diego State’s 12th-year coach Steve Fisher on if his team is playing for seeding this week for the NCAA Tournament.

“You have to fight to keep your season alive, or it comes to an end.” — TCU’s Jim Christian

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An early prediction on who wins this tournament: UNLV beats New Mexico in the finals. UNLV has won five straight and nine of its last 11, and will upend San Diego State in the semis. New Mexico will beat BYU in the semis (after a hard-fought win over Colorado State in the quarterfinals Thursday) for its fifth straight win over the Cougars and third this season. The Cougars have no answer for New Mexico’s size.

If New Mexico beats UNLV then the MWC gets four teams in the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year. But UNLV will use the momentum of a home crowd and wins. It will be the Rebels, Cougars and Aztecs in the NCAAs. New Mexico and CSU go to the NIT. Air Force goes to the CBI.

Would love to hear your predictions.

Also the reminders above this story for the live blogs for all UW games, with two on Wednesday. Join me at about 2:45 p.m. for the men and at about 7:45 or so for the women. Links are on the main page of the blog.

UW-Air Force postgame thoughts

Good win for Wyoming, even though the 63-61 victory over Air Force Wednesday night in Laramie shouldn’t have been as close as it was. UW was 12 of 28 from the free-throw line. It makes just three or four more and there are no anxious moments late in the game.

UW was 6 of 15 from the line in the final 11:53 when it went into the bonus.

But no sense dwelling on the negative. Interim coach Fred Langley is 2-2 and has this team playing with more energy, intensity and fire.

And how about sophomore forward Amath M’Baye. He’s averaged 20.2 points over his last four games, and had a career-high 27 points in this one.

See my game story in Thursday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle www.wyomingnews.com and Laramie Boomerang www.laramieboomerang.comfor what Langley said about M’Baye.

For now, here’s what junior center Adam Waddell said: “Amath’s been playing with a lot of confidence lately. We’ve been riding it and been the guy to go to to make a big play. He gets the crowd into it, and makes the athlete moves to help us win.”

Waddell’s blocked shot on sophomore forward Zach Bohannon secured the win. UW had a season-high nine blocked shots. Three were by M’Baye, and on one it looked like he jumped up, grabbed the net and blocked the shot. The rules state that should be goaltending, but no call was made.

UW had 11 offensive rebounds and forced 19 turnovers. It also shared the ball well with 17 assists on 25  baskets.

All ingredients for winning basketball.

UW (10-17, 3-10) now has to play the top three teams in the MWC, starting Saturday at 21-7 UNLV, followed by a home game with No. 4 San Diego State then at No. 7 BYU next week

That doesn’t seem to damper the Cowboys’ confidence right now.

“I think (since Langley took over as interim coach) it’s completely different and I think it’s for the good,” Waddell said. “We got beat by Air Force by 21 there. The past few weeks we’ve played with a lot of confidence. We’re going to try and keep this rolling.”

Added Langley: “We’re going to have some exciting basketball the rest of the year. I don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t talk about winning and losing in that locker room. We talk about execution. I don’t think our guys are going to be intimidated by going (to UNLV). They’re going to play their tails off and whatever will happen will happen.”

Nine guys played and eight saw double-digit minutes. The guy who didn’t — true freshman guard Joe Hudson — played nine minutes. Langley has shown he’s not afraid to play anybody and anytime.

And, UW got this win with leading scorer Desmar Jackson (15.2 ppg) scoring just two points.

MWC coach likes what UW is doing with Jackson

For the last two games Wyoming interim men’s basketball coach Fred Langley has brought sophomore guard and leading scorer Desmar Jackson off the bench.

The biggest reason is to protect him from getting into early foul trouble in UW’s more aggressive style of defense. Still, Jackson fouled out of last Wednesday’s 80-70 loss at Utah and was saddled with foul trouble in the Cowboys’ 77-67 win over TCU on Feb. 12. Still, Jackson averaged 16 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in those contests, and enters Wednesday’s home game with Air Force averaging 15.2 points and five rebounds per game.

Langley will continue to bring Jackson off the bench, and one other Mountain West Conference coach likes that plan.

“I like having that guy that can come in and score that people have to prepare for,” Utah coach Jim Boylen said. “The thing about Desmar Jackson is you have to prepare for him. You have to prepare for him to come in and change the pace of the game and score the ball. A lot of times you might start your best defender, and now you might have to keep him in longer or substitute a little differently to get your best perimeter defender on (Jackson). Those are the kinds of decisions you have to make when you have a guy like that coming off the bench.

“I think he’s one of the most talented guys in the league. He’s still a young, developing player and can really get it going. But I’ve always liked that. I think it makes you harder to guard. If you get down early you have a guy that can come in and get you back in it. If you get up early you have a guy that can come in and extend the lead.”

Boylen, in his fourth year at Utah, knows all about this. He’s brought many of his leading scorers off the bench in recent years, including guard Carlon Brown last season and center Luke Nevill and couple of years ago. Shaun Green and Tyler Kepkay are other solid scorers Boylen has brought off the bench, and this season junior Chris Kupets comes off the bench and averaged eight points per contest.

For more about UW’s game with Air Force Wednesday, along with a UW-Air Force women’s preview, see Wednesday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle www.wyomingnews.com and Laramie Boomerang www.laramieboomerang.com

Leftovers from UW-Kennesaw State

Wyoming coach Heath Schroyer said sophomore guard Desmar Jackson’s ability to play with two fouls for much of the first half was one of the biggest keys in the Cowboys’ 68-55 win over Kennesaw State Tuesday night at the Arena-Auditorium.

Jackson scored 12 of his 21 points and nabbed four of his career-high six steals in the first half where he played 15 of 20 minutes.

According to the Mountain West Conference statistics from games through Dec. 28, Jackson has moved up to sixth in scoring (15.5 ppg) and second in steals (2.6 spg).

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UW held Kennesaw State’s two leading scorers, sophomore guard Markeith Cummings and junior guard Spencer Dixon, to 14 and six points, respectively. That’s 12 points under their combined scoring average, and the two were 6 of 21 from the field.

“We really felt Cummings was the difference,” Schroyer said. “I thought Cummings on the block was a big deal for us. I thought our match-up zone did a nice job, and at times we even doubled him out of our zone. With Dixon, we wanted to be there on the catch, keep him out of the paint and make him shoot pull-up jumpers. I thought we did that.”

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A few other quotes from the game:

“I don’t think anything changed, we just communicated better on defense. We kept playing our regular zone defense.” — Jackson on the difference between UW’s defensive effort in the first half and second half. The Cowboys held Kennesaw State to six field goals and 22 percent shooting in the second half.

“He’s really long and he can reach every where.” — junior guard Francisco Cruz on Jackson and his six steals.

“He’s a threat no matter when he’s on the floor. When he came in during the first half, he brought a lot of attention to him. It was similar if he was scoring.” — senior forward Djibril Thiam on junior forward Afam Muojeke playing for the first time in four games due to injury. Muojeke came off the bench and scored three points on 1 of 6 shooting.

See Thursday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle www.wyomingnews.com and Laramie Boomerang www.laramieboomerang.comfor a feature on the homecoming for Cowgirls head coach Joe Legerski and assistant Gerald Mattinson as they head back to their hometown of Rock Springs Thursday for an exhibition game against Montana-Western.

Also see Sunday’s paper for a look-ahead to conference play for the men’s basketball team.

UW-Kennesaw State postgame thoughts

Wyoming junior forward Afam Muojeke (knee) missed the last three games, but played 16 minutes off the bench in the Cowboys’ 68-55 home win over Kennesaw State Tuesday night.

Muojeke had only three points on 1-of-6 shooting to go along with two assists, two rebounds, a steal and a turnovers. He still is nothing near the player he was before he ruptured the patellar tendon in his knee less than a year ago.

But coach Heath Schroyer couldn’t have been happier with what he saw from Muojeke.

“More than anything else he came in and gave us a confidence, he gave us a calming influence, he gave us some leadership. He gave us all the intangibles you want,” Schroyer said. “Those were the things that we talked about at the end of the last game (a 68-62 home loss to Wisconsin-Green Bay last Wednesday) that this team desperately needs.”

Junior center Adam Waddell (Achilles) was in uniform and went through pregame warm-ups, but he missed his fourth straight game and seventh out of the last eight. Schroyer said he was “really sore” in the afternoon shoot-around and the tendon was swollen again. Schroyer hopes to play both Muojeke and Waddell some minutes at Houston Baptist Friday.

“Going into league play we’re going to need those guys, but to think they’re going to be 100 percent healthy this year probably isn’t going to happen,” Schroyer said. “But they can give us some intangibles and some minutes that this team desperately needs.”

Some other thoughts from the game:

–Thought the shot of the game came from junior Francisco Cruz with a 3-pointer with 6:20 to play that ended about a six-minute drought where UW didn’t make a basket. See my gamer in Wednesday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle www.wyomingnews.com and Laramie Boomerang www.laramieboomerang.com on that. Seems like when Cruz plays well, UW plays well. However, this was the fifth game Cruz scored in double figures and UW is 2-3 in those games.

–Schroyer said junior guard Luke Martinez, who broke an elbow in preseason practice, won’t be back this season but will redshirt.

–Sophomore guard Desmar Jackson had a career-high six steals, four coming in the first half. He was saddled with two early fouls, but Jackson played 15 minutes in the first half. He also had a game-high 21 points. This kid is pretty good.

–Disappointing to see UW go 16 of 32 at the free-throw line. It entered the week tops in the Mountain West Conference at 71.3 percent. But it was encouraging to see the Cowboys get to the line 32 times.

–The more I see him play, the more I like sophomore forward Brian Gibson and the way he rebounds the ball. Had five boards in nine minutes. Schroyer said Gibson’s minutes should increase from her on out.

–UW (7-7) seeks its first win away from Laramie Friday at 1-10 Houston Baptist. What does UW need to do to get that first road win? See both papers for more on that, but I welcome any thoughts.

More hoops notes and quotes

Here are some leftover stuff from Wyoming’s 76-49 win over Centenary Monday night:

–“Those two are really starting to figure out how to play together. I think when you can outlet the ball to either one of those guys it really helps us in transition. I didn’t think we did that particularly well (against Centenary). But they combined for 37 points and that’s pretty good from your guard line.” — Coach Heath Schroyer on the play of junior point guard JayDee Luster and sophomore guard Desmar Jackson.

 –“I was really happy that he stepped up and knocked down a 3 tonight. He had no hitch in his shot, and he shot it with confidence. I think JayDee is playing really, really well.” — Schroyer.

–“This wasn’t a very good team, but they’ve played a couple of good teams so far so we had to come out and be ready to go because you can’t take anybody lightly.” — Jackson on Centenary.

–“I feel like (Centenary) was a good team. I think we are getting better and are playing with a sense of urgency, but I do think (Wednesday’s Wisconsin-Green Bay game) will be a test.” — Luster

–“If we can get those guys implemented into the rotation within the next couple of weeks into league play, I think this team has a chance to have a really good year.” — Schroyer on getting juniors Afam Muojeke (knee) and Adam Waddell (Achilles) back on the floor.

–“I’ve seen him dunk in pracitce so no I wasn’t surprised.” — Schroyer on the dunk by 6-1 true freshman guard Joe Hudson late in the Centenary game.

Wednesday’s game will be UW’s fourth in the last eight days, and a win will match last season’s longest winning streak at four.

Earlier this season the Cowboys played five games in a nine-day stretch and went 1-4. That included losses at Northern Colorado and at home to North Florida, followed by a win over Western Illinois. UW then went to Cancun and lost to Missouri and Providence.

See Wednesday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle www.wyomingnews.com and Laramie Boomerang www.laramieboomerang.com for a story on one of the Cowboys’ most consistent players so far this season. Also see if the UW women’s basketball team picked up an elusive win at Montana Tuesday night.

UW-Centenary postgame thoughts

Even though Wyoming has had its struggles, it did what it should of against a winless team in Centenary Monday night — beat it soundly.

The 76-49 win extended UW’s win streak to three and evened its record at 6-6.

Thought guard JayDee Luster and Desmar Jackson were very good. Luster scored a career-high 16 points, made both his 3-point attempts and had only one turnover. He also had three assists, three steals and three rebounds.

“I think JayDee gets a bad rap from a lot of people, which is very unfortunate,” coach Heath Schroyer said. “If you really understand the game and understand the intangibles, (Luster) does so many great things. Not only on the floor, but in the locker room. He’s playing well.”

Jackson matched a season-high with 21 points, and a career-high with five steals.

Senior forward Djibril Thiam recorded his second double-double of the season with 12 points and 12 rebounds. That was his fourth double-double of his career. Seems like he should have more, but he likely will get more as the season goes on.

Thought sophomore forward Amath M’Baye took a slight step back from his consistent play with nine points and four rebounds. He was 4 of 11 from the floor and had five turnovers. Still, M’Baye has been one of the more steady players for the Cowboys. More on him on Wednesday.

But the play of the game late was the dunk by 6-1 true freshman guard Joe Hudson. It was a legitimate dunk: one-handed and he easily put it down.

The announced crowd of 3,786 (don’t think there was much more than 2,000 actual people in the arena) sure liked it.

For the second straight game, juniors Afam Muojeke (knee) and Adam Waddell (Achilles) didn’t play. Both were in street clothes.

UW gets a better test to see how far it has come in recent weeks with Wisconsin-Green Bay comes to town for a 7 p.m. game Wednesday. Green Bay is 5-7, but is a heckuva lot better than UW’s previous three opponents.

See Tuesday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle www.wyomingnews.com and Laramie Boomerang www.laramieboomerang.com for more on the Centenary game.