Tuck’s Takes: Things we learned in Wyoming’s opener
LARAMIE -- Wyoming did all the things it's supposed to do on its home floor against a Division-II opponent. At times, it looked like big brother, rejecting shots in the driveway, stripping the ball and throwing down monster dunks.
No offense to Colorado Christian --the Cougars battled -- but the hay was in the barn the minute the schedule was announced. A lopsided win was inevitable. That isn't what we came here to see tonight anyway.
How would this team perform without Graham Ike, the Mountain West's preseason Player of the Year? Will rookie Caden Powell really be a viable option to replace him? How will the transfers -- Jake Kyman, Max Agbonkpolo and Ethan Anderson -- look in their UW debut? Will this offense look different or still drain shot clock? What lineups will Jeff Linder go with? He has plenty of options to choose from.
The grand experiment, for the most part, was a successful one.
"I wanted to see a win. I wanted to see that first and foremost," Linder said when asked what his expectations were for this one. "I just wanted to see, as we always talk about, all we can control is the one possession. I thought from a defensive standpoint, we did a really good job of pressuring them out ... From an offensive standpoint, you know, we've really been trying to play with a little bit of a faster pace with our depth and I thought we did a really good job of sharing the ball.
"... I thought our guys did a really good job of of making the extra pass, getting into that second or third action. When we do that we're pretty hard to guard."
Back to our checklist.
Powell didn't play the part of wide-eyed freshman. He finished the night with six points, sinking both of his attempts from the field, and pulled down four rebounds in 13 minutes on the floor. He also drew a pair of charges under the hoop.
Apparently that's nothing new.
"He's our charge guy, we knew that coming into the game," Agbonkpolo said with a grin postgame. "He showed out today. He's a freshman and we didn't really know what to expect. When I was a freshman, I wasn't like that in my first game. So he's a lot better than me. We're proud of him. He's going to be very good one day."
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How about those transfers?
Agbonkpolo, Anderson and Kyman combined for 33 points, 11 assists and 13 rebounds. Agbonkpolo led the way with 16 points. Anderson, who ran the point for more than 23 minutes, nearly landed a triple-double with seven points, eight assists and six boards. Kyman stroked a pair of threes and hit two more from the field.
"Some transfers, they come in expecting a lot of false hopes and promises where those guys, they just want to be a part of a really good team, which is what they've been a part of," Linder said of that trio. "That's the beauty of getting guys from a Power-Five program that have been in NCAA Tournament games and have won big games, but also have the humility to understand that there are other guys in the program, and whatever we ask them to do, whether that's to start or whether that's to come off the bench, is that they're going to accept that."
Last season, Wyoming drained shot clock, worked the half-court offense and Hunter Maldonado and Ike played a two-man game in leading the Pokes to the 16th NCAA Tournament appearance in school history.
That was out of necessity. Not anymore.
Monday night, Wyoming raced up and down the court. The Cowboys put up 73 shots (37-of-73), including 37 (14-of-37) from beyond the arc. For the sake of comparison, UW finished with just 46 attempts from the field in a 66-58 loss to Indiana in the opening round of March Madness. Just 19 of those came from deep.
Maldonado played just 28:29 against CCU. Last year, it wasn't uncommon to see the senior play the full 40. He netted 13 on 5-of-12 shooting. He pulled down just two rebounds. During the 2020-21 campaign, he averaged 18.5 points per night to go along with nearly six boards.
He doesn't need to do all of that anymore.
"That's probably the shortest amount of minutes I've played in five years," Maldonado joked. "... I think obviously it would be nice (to get a break), but I love playing basketball so it doesn't matter. I love being out there. Even when we're up by 30 I'm asking coach, 'like, am I seriously done? I'm ready to go. I can go back in.'
"But now, it's like I said before, it's fun to sit back and watch because I see how much they're in the gym, how much work they are putting in, how much time they shoot, so it's good to see that pay off for them."
Did Linder enjoy the mixing and matching of new lineups in the season opener? Not really, he admitted. He likes a set rotation. Without Ike in the lineup for maybe the next two months -- or Brendan Wenzel, who missed Monday's game with muscle spasms -- he knows that likely won't be a reality.
So, will it become normal to see 50 -- yes, 50 -- bench points from this team?
"To know that whoever is coming off that bench, there's no drop off," Linder said. "I mean, I've never had that luxury, knowing that, hey, the next guy coming in is just as good.
"We'll see a lot of that and I think that's what makes us really tough is the ability to have multiple guys that can come off the bench and score."
FINAL: Wyoming 102, Colorado Christian 69
* Jeremiah Oden led all scorers with 17 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field. The junior forward also drilled three triples and pulled down four rebounds in the win. "I think you can see how far he has come," Maldonado said with a smile. "It speaks for itself. He's put in a bunch of work, coming in shooting (He's even) picking my brain about post moves. I think when he gets to his spot, he has that confidence, he's unstoppable. That's what makes us good." Linder added that Oden is shooting 60% from three in practice. The Chicago product spent a majority of the second half on the bench. Linder said he was dealing with cramps.
* With 7:29 remaining in regulation, Powell was called for a "flop" in the paint. There are no more warnings for pretending to take charges. The true freshman was hit with a technical and CCU shot one free throw. Linder thinks that will benefit his team more times than not this season.
* Speaking of Powell. We heard the 6-foot-10, 206-pound Texan could play defense. With 6:19 to go, he pulled down an offensive rebound in traffic and went up strong for the put back. On the next possession, the big man ran the length of the floor and flushed a one-handed jam. He certainly didn't look like he was playing in his first collegiate game.
* How about Hunter Thompson's big night? The super senior drained four from deep and finished with 15 points. "It's my last year, sixth year, so might as well," Thompson said when asked if he's just going to let it fly this season. "I put in time and my teammates find me, so it's my job on the team." Linder knew the opportunity for pick-and-pop threes would be there for the Pine Bluffs native. They were.
* You've probably never heard of Cort Roberson. The 6-foot, 157-pound walk-on from Washington saw the court Monday night for the first time in his UW tenure. He drew a foul and sank one of two free throws. His teammates, standing nearby, gave him a nice ovation when that ball went through the hole. "That's my roommate right there," Maldonado said with a smile. "That makes me super happy. I know how much effort he puts in not only with us at practice, but on the scout team, giving us good looks. And, I think, being able to get in, hit a free throw -- obviously he missed the second one; he'll be mad at himself -- but like I said, it's fun."
* Ike was the team's top cheerleader Monday, hanging on the bench in street clothes and wearing a protective black boot on his right foot. Linder said Friday the 6-foot-9 forward will miss upward of "six-to-eight weeks" with that lower-leg injury. That means he could miss the Cowboys' entire non-conference slate, which includes games against Dayton, Saint Mary's and Grand Canyon, among others. I spoke briefly to Ike before tipoff. He said not to feel sorry for him and he'll be back. His teammates also said the Aurora, Colo., product is in good spirits. "Graham is a very uplifting dude," Maldonado said. "Obviously it's something out of his control and out of all of our control, as well. So you have to make the most of it, have to keep your head up and can't really sit and pout about it. There's nothing you can do."
* Wyoming's scorers: Oden 17, Agbonkpolo 16, Thompson 15, Maldonado 13, Reynolds 12, Kyman 10, Anderson 7, Powell 6, Foster 5, Roberson 1
* Mountain West scoreboard: UNLV 66, Southern 56; Nevada 84, Dixie State 71; No. 19 San Diego State 80, Cal State Fullerton 57; New Mexico 89, Southern Utah 81; Colorado State 65, Garner Webb 63; Bowling Green 62, Air Force 58; Utah State 75, Utah Valley 58; Fresno State 69, Fresno Pacific 56
* The Cowboys host Nicholls Thursday night inside the Arena-Auditorium. Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. Mountain Time and the game will be broadcast on the Mountain West Network.