Jeff Linder’s last five games had a Belichickian quality to them.
The Wyoming men’s basketball head coach and his staff continue to deftly adjust game plans to put the Pokes in position to win.
During last season’s Mountain West Tournament, the Cowboys ran San Jose State out of the Thomas & Mack Center with a 111-80 victory in the opening round and nearly squeezed out an upset of top-seeded San Diego State by bleeding the clock in a 69-66 loss.
The Cowboys opened Linder’s second season by scoring 85 points in each of their first two games while averaging 8.5 made 3-pointers in blowout wins over Detroit Mercy and Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
UW finished just 3-for-16 (18.8%) behind the arc and scored 65 points in regulation on Thursday night at Washington, but Graham Ike (26 points, 10 rebounds) and Hunter Maldonado (24 points, 10 rebounds) dominated the paint to lead the Pokes to the 77-72 overtime win in Pac-12 country.
“My guys understand that my game plan going into each game is going to be different,” Linder said. “It might call for (Xavier DuSell) to be coming off ball screens one game because of the coverages. It might be that we’re just going to pound the ball inside to Graham and Maldo. We knew that we had an advantage inside with those two guys and we took advantage of that.”
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Ike and Maldonado finished a combined 20-for-37 (54.1%) from the field. The Pokes, despite Ike only logging 31 minutes due to foul trouble, out-rebounded the Huskies 42-41.
Entering Saturday’s games, Ike was tied for 12th nationally in scoring (23.0 points per game). UW was third in the Mountain West in scoring (82.3 ppg) and first in scoring defense (54.7 ppg).
The most impressive stat during the Cowboys’ impressive start is they are holding opponents to 31.2% shooting from the field, which ranks fifth in the NCAA.
“My biggest thing going into this game was, we did such a great job those first two games defensively, could that carry over against a team the caliber of Washington?” Linder said.
The Huskies were just 26-for-81 (32.1%) from the field. Washington wilted in overtime, going 3-for-10 from the field, 0-for-2 on 3-pointers and 1-for-6 at the free-throw line.
Ike fouled out in the extra session, but Hunter Thompson came in and secured an offensive rebound with 34 second left that allowed the visitors to ice the game at the foul line.
“We talk about winning plays. It was like déjà vu of what Hunter did at Oregon State last year,” Linder said of the 76-73 win in Corvallis over the Beavers, who ended up in the Elite Eight. “He had two huge offensive rebounds at the end of that game to help seal it. He’s a really good rebounder when he has a chance to come in from the perimeter, especially as an offensive rebounder.
“So for him to be on the bench and come in cold and understand … that was the play of the game.”
Linder and his staff will try to design a game plan to beat another quality opponent, Grand Canyon, on the road Monday in Phoenix (7 p.m., ESPN+).
The Antelopes (3-0) have blown out three overmatched opponents at jam-packed GCU Arena after finishing the 2020-21 season by winning the WAC Tournament to reach the NCAA Tournament.
Follow UW beat writer Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @By_RyanThorburn