Eleventh-seeded Cowboys make history, stun archival Colorado State in MW Tournament
March 5, 2020
LAS VEGAS – Given the location of the tournament, the smart money in Las Vegas was to bet the house on Colorado State.
The 11th-seeded University of Wyoming men's basketball team, with just seven wins under its belt the entire season, had found itself on the wrong end of heartbreak all season. Whether it was squandering an eight-point lead with less than two minutes to play against UNLV in January, or seeing a 19-point lead at home to these very same Rams dwindle away less than a month ago, luck had not been on the Cowboys' side. History also did not favor the Cowboys: A No. 11 seed had never beaten a No. 6 in the Mountain West Conference tournament.
At times Wednesday night, it looked like history might repeat itself. But in Sin City, all it takes is a few lucky rolls to get hot. And, at least for one night, Lady Luck was a Pokes fan.
Behind hot shooting from behind the 3-point line and suffocating defense, the Cowboys stunned No. 6 Colorado State on Wednesday night 80-74 at Thomas & Mack Arena in the opening round of the MW tournament. No. 11 seeds were 0-5 in the tournament prior to the Cowboys' upset.
After losing to the Rams twice in the regular season, it turns out the third Border War was the charm.
"I think people would doubt a 2-16 team, an 11 seed. We've had a lot of close games, maybe a lot of people within the conference, other teams might not have because they know we can play a close game," senior guard Jake Hendricks said. "But I would say for the most part we were probably pretty doubted."
UW led by as many as 13 in the second half but, as was the case in their last matchup, the archrival Rams made things interesting, cutting the lead all the way down to two. Each 3-pointer from Adam Thistlewood or Isaiah Stevens that rattled its way down felt to cut into UW's lead felt eerily familiar. A former version of these Cowboys may have folded under similar circumstances. That was not the case this time around.
"One of the biggest things we talked about, even before the game, was clearing out the outside noise. And we've had to say that to our guys quite a bit, because when you're on a course, and at the end of the day the wins don't show up, it's (easy) to doubt what you're doing," UW head coach Allen Edwards said.
Every missed free throw that had rimmed out in the latter stages against the Runnin' Rebels calmly made its way through the cylinder Wednesday evening. All of the big shots that hadn't gone in against the Rams in mid-February found nothing but net this time. For all the lessons UW had learned the hard way this season, Wednesday was finally an example of lessons learned.
"This group still believes ... We've been in so many close games, and we could have been on the other side of them," Edwards said. "But they found a way to just keep coming. (Wednesday night), it was good, and it's a good feeling."
UW (8-23) made 12 of 26 3-pointers Wednesday night, including eight in the first half. The Cowboys jumped out to a 26-10 lead in the first but led by just five at halftime after the Rams found their footing late in the period. The Cowboys again flexed their muscles when the second half began, hitting 4 of 5 shots to take the lead back to 13 points just three minutes into the half.
CSU (20-12) had its own set of answers for every UW run which, given how the first two matchups went, was to be expected. Unlike last time, however, UW had a response to every body blow. When the lead was down to just a basket with 8 minutes, 55 seconds to play, it was true freshman guard Kwane Marble II who rose to the occasion with a 3-pointer that started a 13-2 avalanche to give the Cowboys breathing room. Up by three with 20 seconds to play, it was senior guard A.J. Banks who sunk both of his free throw tries. And, with CSU gasping for air on its final possessions, it was redshirt sophomore guard Hunter Maldonado, the team's heart and soul, that came up with a steal and sealed the game on the other end with a powerful dunk that seemed to exorcise all of Wyoming's demons at once.
The inevitable, "It sucks to be a CSU Ram," chants began echoing across the arena from fans clad in brown and gold the moment Maldonado's feet landed back on the ground. In the best way possible, history was rewritten.
"Every day in practice, we come in and we want to get better and we work hard every day. And the other times we've talked and we've come on the wrong end, we've had something – every time it's been something that's gone wrong," Hendricks, who finished with 16 points, said. "(Wednesday night), I thought we fixed all of those things and put a complete game together, and it just comes with all the hard work we've put in"
Marble led UW with 20 points. Five different Cowboys finished in double-digit scoring, and UW had 19 assists on 25 made field goals. Perhaps most importantly, the Cowboys committed just seven turnovers, shot 45.5% from the field and trailed for a whopping 37 seconds.
"We have a ton of respect in the world for Wyoming. And we knew it was going to be a tough game," CSU head coach Niko Medved said. "I think our execution defensively on some of their motions, we lost guys. And they made us pay. Hendricks got hot early. Kwane Marble is a really good player, a guy who has not shot the ball well from the perimeter. He made some huge shots tonight when they really needed it. That wasn't the case here today. They just played better than us."
UW will look to continue its Vegas luck against Nevada (19-11) at 9:30 tonight in the MW quarterfinals. Nevada won both meetings with the Cowboys this season by a combined six points. The Wolfpack are led by Jalen Harris, who leads the MW in scoring at 21.8 points per game.
Again, Las Vegas likely suggests putting money on third-seeded Nevada. As CSU learned Wednesday, however, the 2019-2020 Cowboys are not to be underestimated. UW showed heart the entire season but often came up empty handed. This time around, they have something show for it.
"We're consistently telling them about the process – just stay true to the process, and understand that there's a reason why you work the way you work," Edwards said. "It doesn't guarantee you a win at the end of the day, but it puts you in the best position to win."
COWBOYS 80, RAMS 74
Wyoming: Taylor 5-7 3-5 15, Hendricks 5-13 2-3 16, Banks 2-6 6-8 10, Marble 7-12 2-2 20, Maldonado 5-9 2-6 13, Thompson 0-3 2-2 2, Milton 1-5 0-0 3, Foster 0-0 1-2 1, Fornstrom 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 25-55 18-28 80
Colorado State: Roddy 0-5 2-2 2, Thistlewood 3-10 1-2 9, 1-2 9, Carvacho 7-13 6-6 20, Moore 2-4 2-2 7, Stevens 8-19 4-4 22, Edwards 3-4 0-0 0, Martin 1-5 0-0 3, Thomas 1-3 0-0 2, Tonje 0-0 1-3 1. Totals: 25-63 16-19 74
Halftime: UW 44, CSU 39. 3-pointers: UW 12-26 (Marble 4-7, Hendricks 4-11, Taylor 2-2, Maldonado 1-2, Milton 1-3, Thompson 0-1); CSU 8-19 (Edwards 2-2, Stevens 2-4, Thistlewood 2-6, Moore 1-2, Martin 1-3, Roddy 0-1, Thomas 0-1). Rebounds: UW 26 (Hendricks 6); CSU 48 (Carvacho 15, Thistlewood 10). Assists: UW 19 (Maldonado 6); CSU 14 (Edwards 4). Turnovers: UW 7 (Taylor 2); CSU 16 (Stevens 6). Blocks: UW 2 (Taylor, Foster); CSU 4 (four with 1). Steals: UW 8 (Maldonado 3); CSU 3 (Moore 2). Total fouls: UW 17; CSU 22. Fouled out: CSU (Thistlewood). Officials: McCall, Spaulding, Pfeffer. Attendance: 5,198