LARAMIE — San Diego State did something Wednesday night that it hadn’t since 1999, play a conference game without Steve Fisher as head coach. Hayden Dalton did the Aztecs one better.
The Wyoming senior scored more points at the Arena-Auditorium than any player had since 1998. His 36 led the Cowboys to a conference-opening 82-69 defeat of San Diego State in head coach Brian Dutcher’s Mountain West debut.
“I mean, we ran our plays very crisp tonight, and I was getting very open, great looks and they were falling,” said Dalton, whose previous career high was 30 points in the season opener against Chattanooga. “Coach always says take them with confidence, and that’s what I was doing. I felt hot, so I kept shooting them.”
Wyoming’s Ugo Udezue was the last player to score 36 points in the “Doom of Doom,” doing so Dec. 9, 1998 against Colorado. Only three players have ever scored more: San Diego State’s Michael Cage (40, 1984), Cincinnati’s LaZelle Durden (45, 1994) and Wyoming’s Maurice Alexander (49 against New Mexico in 1991).
Wyoming, which led by as many as 19, finished with its largest margin of victory against San Diego State since 2001. The Aztecs (8-4 overall, 0-1 Mountain West) were coming off a win over No. 12 Gonzaga, while Wyoming (10-4, 1-0) had closed non-conference play with a home loss to Northern Colorado.
“I told our guys, sometimes a loss can be a blessing in disguise, and the loss to Northern Colorado really gave us an opportunity to look back on the (last) four games and how could we get back to playing our brand of basketball?” Wyoming head coach Allen Edwards said. “So, again, what we did was just get back to that practice floor and did a lot of more competitive stuff within practice.
“And I thought the guys came out with a really good edge, and, again, San Diego State is one of the better teams in this league traditionally. So that was a little extra motivation within itself.”
The Cowboys outscored the Aztecs by 16 points in the second half, shooting better than 50 percent from both the floor (16-of-29) and the 3-point line (7-of-12). San Diego State shot just 41 percent from the field.
“Like I told them after the game, when you have Malik Pope taking 22 shots to get 21 points, that’s a good deal at the end of the day,” Edwards said. “And the other guy I told them about was Trey Kell, who I really respect as a basketball player. I’ve watched him, obviously, over the years, and know how important he is to this program, to be able to say he took, I think, nine shots and ended up with seven points again goes back to a better focus on that end of the floor.”
The Cowboys got out to an eight-point lead in just over 5 minutes of game time, but the Aztecs responded with a 21-8 run to take its largest lead of the game, a five-point edge. Wyoming clawed back to take the lead with 2:30 remaining in the first half, but San Diego State went into halftime up 40-37.
“We gave up 40 points at half, which is way too much,” sophomore point guard Cody Kelley said. “But I still felt like we were playing good defense. It was more of the offensive rebounds. They had nine offensive rebounds, I believe, in the first half. A lot of second-chance points for them. So we really did a good job. I think they only had two (second-chance points) in the second half. That was a big emphasis for us was just to block out and get on the rebounds.”
San Diego State matched its largest lead three times early in the second half. Then, Dalton went off. He scored 16 of Wyoming’s points during its decisive 34-11 run, including the dunk that capped it. He also had 15 rebounds to earn his 16th career double-double, as well as five assists, two blocks and a steal. His five made 3-pointers tied a career high, while his 11 made free throws set a new one.
Dalton and San Diego State’s Montaque Gill-Caesar were both called for technicals in the game.
“The funnest games of the year (are in conference play), because you know the guys,” Dalton said. “We’ve been playing those guys, Trey Kell and Pope for three, some guys four years now. So it’s fun. You see them year in and year out, so it’s really competitive out there. I can’t describe it. It’s just really fun.”
The win was Wyoming’s first over San Diego State since the championship game of the 2015 Mountain West tournament.
Pope’s 21 points led three Aztecs in double figures (Devin Watson, 13 Matt Mitchell, 11). Jeremy Hemsley, who averages 8.5 points in 23.3 minutes per game, did not play because of illness.
Kelley was the only other Cowboy in double figures, scoring 14 points while making a career-high four 3-pointers. Justin James missed his first eight shots from the field and had nine points on 4-of-13 shooting.
The Cowboys have a week off before their second Mountain West game, which is at defending champion Nevada.
WEDNESDAY: Wyoming began Mountain West play with an 82-69 win over San Diego State.
RECORDS: Cowboys (10-4 overall, 1-0 Mountain West) Aztecs (8-4, 0-1).
H.D. DELIVERS: Wyoming senior Hayden Dalton set a career high with 36 points, tied for fourth all time of any player at the Arena-Auditorium.
HE SAID IT: “Coach always says take them with confidence, and that’s what I was doing. I felt hot, so I kept shooting them.” — Dalton.
Wyoming 82, San Diego State 69
Wednesday, at Laramie
SAN DIEGO STATE (69): Jalen McDaniels 3-6 0-0 6, Matt Mitchell 3-7 2-3 11, Malik Pope 10-22 1-3 21, Devin Watson 4-8 2-2 13, Trey Kell 2-9 3-4 7, Max Montana 0-3 0-0 0, Jordan Schakel 1-2 0-0 3, Montaqu Gill-Caesar 2-4 0-1 6, Kameron Rooks 0-0 2-2 2. Totals 25-61 10-15 69.
WYOMING (82): Alan Herndon 3-7 1-2 8, Hayden Dalton 10-17 11-14 36, Justin James 4-13 1-1 9, Cody Kelley 5-8 0-0 14, Hunter Maldonado 2-5 2-2 6, Nyaires Redding 0-0 1-2 1, Alexander Aka Gorski 2-8 0-0 6, Louis Adams 1-1 0-1 2. Totals 27-59 16-22 82.
3-point goals: SDSU 9-24 (Watson 3-4, Mitchell 3-6, Gill-Caesar 2-4, Schakel 1-2, Kell 0-1, Montana 0-3, Pope 0-4) UW 12-29 (Dalton 5-9, Kelley 4-6, Aka Gorski 2-6, Herndon 1-4, James 0-4). Rebounds: SDSU 40 (McDaniels 10) UW 35 (Dalton 15, Herndon 6, Maldonado 6). Assists: SDSU 7 (Watson 4) UW 14 (Dalton 5, Maldonado 4). Attendance: 4,823.