What we know about the Cowboys

As the Wyoming men’s basketball team gets ready for Mountain West play, what do we know about this group?

For more on that, see my column in today’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Laramie Boomerang.

Here’s what coach Larry Shyatt had to say about what he learned from his team during its 14-2 nonconference record.

“I thought they stayed the course,” he said. “I thought they stayed connected. I thought they didn’t change. I’ve seen teams where they are really hyped up and some that were not. I think I like the steadiness of our team, albeit with some ugly offensive shooting nights, but that hasn’t affected them, their discipline and it definitely hasn’t affected their defense.”

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.

Cowboys, Cowgirls prepare for MWC tourney

The brackets are out and the match-ups are set for the Mountain West Conference men’s and women’s basketball tournament in Las Vegas. Action begins Tuesday.

The Wyoming men and women both play Wednesday. The Cowboys play TCU in the play-in game at 3 p.m. MST. The Cowgirls get a bye in the first round as the tournament’s third seed, and get the winner of Tuesday’s six-seven game between New Mexico and San Diego State at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

I like the men’s chances against TCU. UW beat TCU by 10 a few weeks ago and the Horned Frogs have lost 13 in a row. UW is 2-5 since interim coach Fred Langley took over. The play-in game often times comes down to who wants it the most. I think UW will do just enough to win by five.

The winner gets top-seeded BYU, and UW hung with the Cougars for a while before a 102-78 loss Saturday in Provo. But the Cowboys can’t look ahead to that, they need to focus on the Horned Frogs.

The Cowgirls’ opener scares me. Not because UW lost its regular-season finale by 16 at home to top-seeded BYU Saturday. But because both New Mexico and San Diego State know what it takes to win games at this event, and the Cowgirls are just 3-11.

Both teams are dangerous, but that’s not to say UW isn’t, either. I talked to coach Joe Legerski last Thursday — less than 24 hours after his team went on the road and won at San Diego State — and he said this team continues to amaze him and that no challenge is too big. It’s nice that the Cowgirls have four seniors who have played in this kind of environment. If UW can avoid a slow start Wednesday it wins. If it starts slow, it will be tough.

That would set up a semifinal matchup with second-seeded TCU Friday. TCU swept the regular-season series. You know what they say, it’s hard to beat a team three times in a season. Hope that isn’t the case for UW Wednesday.

Any thoughts?

I will be live blogging all UW men’s and women’s games from the tournament. More information will be sent out soon.

Here is the men’s bracket: http://www.themwc.com/auto_pdf/p_hotos/s_chools/mwc/sports/m-baskbl/auto_pdf/mwc-11-m-baskbl-bracket

Here is the women’s bracket: http://www.themwc.com/auto_pdf/p_hotos/s_chools/mwc/sports/w-baskbl/auto_pdf/mwc-11-w-champ-bracket

Langley doesn’t make excuses

Wyoming interim men’s basketball coach Fred Langley didn’t pull any punches after the Cowboys lost 85-58 to No. 9 San Diego State Tuesday night in the final home game of the season.

At the final media timeout of the first half UW trailed 28-20 with 3:36 to play. The Cowboys trailed 37-20 at halftime, and they made only three field goals over the final 17 minutes of the half.

“We faded, along with our intensity,” Langley said. “I was really disappointed in our effort. As coaches we didn’t push the right buttons tonight. The players didn’t respond to their teammates.”

Langley was asked if there is an illness going around the team. A couple of players on Twitter hinted at that earlier in the day.

“I told them (after the game) you let yourself down if you can’t perform your best,” he said. “You’ve got to get to the doctor and you’ve got to do the things you need to do. You let your teammates down and a you let the fans down. There is no excuses. You’re going to sniffle and you’re going to tough it out.”

Langley said the offense dictated the defense, which is something he doesn’t want to see happen. UW made only 2 of 16 3s and couldn’t do anything inside agaisnt SDSU’s big and athletic frontcourt. SDSU was outscored 52-32 in the paint.

The 27-point win was the most by SDSU in a MWC road game in school history.

Langley went with a bigger lineup by not starting junior point guard JayDee Luster. He went with junior center Adam Waddell, sophomore forward Amath M’Baye and senior forward Djibril Thiam all between 6-9 and 6-10. It worked for about three-quarters of the first half, but UW was still outrebounded 43-26.

“It’s not an excuse to put a product like that on the floor for the fans,” Langely added. “It was hard to be a Cowboy player tonight. It was hard to be a Cowboy fan tonight. It was hard to be a Cowboy coach tonight. It was just a tough night. I can’t put my finger on it, but we’ve got to fix it.”

In his last home game Thiam had 13 points and two rebounds.

UW plays at No. 3 BYU Saturday. The Cowboys have lost 21 straight road games going back to more than two years. However, BYU suffered a blow today when sophomore forward Brandon Davies was dismissed from the team for a violation of the school’s honor code.

“Wow. He’s a big-time player,” SDSU senior forward Malcolm Thomas said. “Without him they’re still a good team and can still make a run. I don’t know what to say to that. I didn’t know that.”

Added Langley, who heard about Davies before the game: “I’m sure they’ll miss him, but they have a lot of depth as well.”

Former coaches, players speak out

Here’s the story that ran in Sunday’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle www.wyomingnews.com and Laramie Boomerang www.laramieboomerang.com on what some former Wyoming men’s basketball players and coaches think what it will take for the next coach to be successful.

http://www.wyomingnews.com/articles/2011/02/27/sports/20sports_02-27-11.txt

Many felt Wyoming needs to look back at its past and look how guys like Jim Brandenburg (176-97 in nine seasons from 1979-87) did it.

Here were Brandenburg’s four keys to having a successful program at Wyoming, or anywhere:

1. Play hard

2. Play good defense, and the best statistic to tell if you are is field-goal percentage defense

3. Shot discipline on offense, which means take good shots and make them

4. Have at least a +10 rebounding margin.

“The rest of it is trivial,” Brandenburg said.

No one I talked to gave specific names on who they thought should be UW’s next coach, although some gave some hints. You should be able to tell with some of their quotes.

One common theme from those I talked to was the next coach, whether he has ties to UW, the program and/or the state, should know about the history of Wyoming basketball.

“I think it’s important for a couple of reasons: one, to teach the importance of the tradition and pride in the program,” Cheyenne East graduate and former UW player Marc Bailey said. “Two, if they can get that some day in a head coach, you might get someone who will stay for the long term if they’re successful.”

Would love to hear your thoughts on this and the article.

On a side note, I thought the UW men’s played hard once again at UNLV despite the loss, and the Cowgirls kept on rolling.

And did any of you catch the BYU-San Diego State men’s game?

Wow, did BYU look good! Hate to say it but the Cougs look to be a more well-rounded team right now and can hurt teams in a lot of different ways offensively.

Cowboys expect pressure at UNLV

Less than 24 hours after Wyoming’s 63-61 win over Air Force, interim coach Fred Langley’s attention turned toward Saturday’s game at UNLV.

Langley said after the Air Force game UNLV plays like he wants the Cowboys (10-17, 3-10) to play: with suffocating pressure defense.

“From the moment you get off the bus it feels like they’re putting pressure on you,” he said. “I think it’s across the board from their perimeter players, their post players and even their fans.”

UNLV (21-7, 9-5) leads the MWC with 8.14 steals per game and force a league-high 17 turnovers per contest.

More on that in Saturday’s game preview.

Langley said his team is excited to play UNLV’s style in terms of more up-tempo and running the floor. This might be a case of be careful what you ask for as the Cowboys have lost three straight to UNLV, seven of the last eight and 14 of the last 16 dating back to 2004.

UNLV missed 10 free throws in its 77-74 overtime win at New Mexico Wednesday night. UW missed 16 free throws against Air Force. The Rebels’ leading scorer, junior forward Chace Stanback, scored only two points and fouled out midway through the second half. But senior guard Tre’Von Willis, despite a sore knee, scored a season-high 25 points.

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Wyoming football will host its “Cowboy Combine” from 12:30-3 p.m. Monday at the indoor practice facility on campus.

Players will be tested in five different areas: the vertical jump, standing long jump, three-cone test, 20-yard shuttle and 40-yard dash.

Coach Dave Christensen asks fans who attend to bring a canned food item that will be donated to the Interfaith-Good Samaritan Food Pantry in Laramie. Fans should park in the gravel parking lot east of War Memorial Stadium. Donation bins will be located inside the Indoor Practice Facility for fans to donate their canned food items.

I’m hoping to be there and to post resluts — if any are released — on some of the highlights. This will be the final testing prior to the start of spring drills on March 5.

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