LAS VEGAS — Wyoming will need some deja vu if there’s going to be anything left in the Cowboys’ season beyond Wednesday.
That’s when Wyoming will take on New Mexico in the opening round of the Mountain West tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center. It’s a rematch of the teams’ regular-season finale just four days earlier when the Cowboys notched an 88-81 Senior Day win for just their fourth conference victory.
Wyoming got the tournament’s No. 10 seed while the Lobos are the 7 seed by way of tiebreakers, though those numbers are irrelevant. One more loss is all that matters for the Cowboys at this point because without an improbable run to the tournament championship, their season will end. Wednesday’s winner will advance to take on regular-season co-champion Utah State in Thursday’s quarterfinals at 7 p.m. MT.
“This is tournament time,” Wyoming coach Allen Edwards said. “That’s why they call it March Madness. You never know what could happen.”
The Cowboys’ win over New Mexico gave them their first winning streak of the season as well as a split of the teams’ regular-season series after getting run out of The Pit in the first matchup back on Jan. 19. The difference for Wyoming the second time around was a more balanced offensive attack that saw four players join Justin James in double figures.
Wyoming needed every bit of it to offset the advantage New Mexico had on the interior with Carlton Bragg, who had career-highs in points (22) and rebounds (20). The Kansas transfer did most of that damage in the first 30 minutes with only one of his nine field goals coming in the final 9 minutes, 56 seconds and just six of his 16 shots coming in the second half.
Wyoming ratcheted up the pressure on New Mexico’s guards as the game wore on to make post entries to the 6-foot-10, 225-pounder more difficult. It made the Cowboys’ defense more susceptible off the bounce at times, but Wyoming would rather take its chances with James, A.J. Banks and the rest of its guards against New Mexico’s perimeter players than let Bragg get going again.
“I do believe we have to have that same mindset,” Edwards said. “I thought where we kind of got in trouble with that is we got so caught up in ball pressure that we got driven a few times, but I think you’re picking your poison. You have to not allow them to be comfortable on the perimeter and yet, at the same time, how can we shrink the floor on perimeter players outside of (Anthony) Mathis?”
Mathis is New Mexico’s leading scorer at 14.7 points per game, but the Cowboys held him to less than that (12) Saturday. Wyoming limited the Lobos to 40 percent shooting from the field and 37.5 percent from 3-point range while shooting 52 percent against a New Mexico team giving up the second-most points in the league on average.
“Another good thing we did for most of the game was take care of the ball,” James said, referring to Wyoming’s less-than-usual 10 turnovers. “New Mexico is a team who capitalizes a lot off of our turnovers, so we did a good job of taking care of the ball and taking the right shots and we did a good job of defending. We need to continue to focus on those three things.”
They helped the Cowboys notch their second straight win. They’ll need to make it three in a row if they want to keep playing this season.
“Regardless who we play, we’re coming out ready to play,” James said. “We’ll have that same energy and same effort on the defensive end. Hopefully we’ll get the dub.”