LARAMIE — For the first time in a long time, Wyoming has a chance to start its first winning streak of the season.
The Cowboys will try to do it this weekend against a team they’ve already seen once.
Fresh off its first win in nearly a month, Wyoming will go for back-to-back victories against Boise State on Saturday. It’s the first repeat opponent on the Mountain West schedule for the Cowboys, who will make the return to trip to Boise after the Broncos spoiled Wyoming’s most recent chance to start a winning streak on Jan. 2 with a 69-55 win in the teams’ first meeting at the Arena Auditorium.
Wyoming (5-14, 1-5 MW) went on to lose its next four games before getting off the schneid in league play with its 59-46 win over San Jose State on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Boise State (8-11, 3-3) has lost three straight following its 74-60 loss at Air Force on Tuesday after a 3-0 start to its conference schedule.
But Wyoming is more concerned with itself when it comes to trying to get out of Taco Bell Arena with another win, specifically being able to bottle up one of its best defensive performances of the season. Once again leaning heavily on their 2-3 zone, the Cowboys forced 16 turnovers, had 10 steals for the second straight game and held San Jose State to 33 percent shooting from the field in allowing the fewest points in head coach Allen Edwards’ three-year tenure.
“With our active hands, I feel like we had a record in deflections this game,” senior guard Justin James said. “It was just our energy and effort from the jump. Moving our feet and being vocal. I feel like this was one of our more vocal games we’ve played in a long time.
“Obviously we’re going to watch some tape on the last time we played Boise and see all the mishaps we had and the reason they had a double-digit lead, but we’ll be fine. We’ll continue to focus on the things we need to focus on.”
Part of the reason Boise State led by as many as 22 points the first time around was James having what’s been his worst shooting performance of the season to this point, something the Cowboys can’t afford again on the road. The MW’s leading scorer went 1 of 14 from the floor, missed all nine shots he took inside the 3-point arc and finished with nearly as many turnovers (6) as points (7). He and Hunter Thompson, the only other double-figure scorer in the Cowboys’ rotation, combined for just 10 points in the first matchup.
The Cowboys also turned it over 15 times leading to 17 points for Boise State, an issue Wyoming has yet to solve. Wyoming, which is averaging a league-low 55 points in league play, is coughing it up more than 15 times per game after committing 17 more turnovers against SJSU.
And like most teams have done this season, Boise State exploited Wyoming on the glass. Not that the rebounding differential (33-30) was lopsided, but the Broncos pulled down 11 offensive rebounds and scored 12 second-chance points.
Wyoming’s activity on defense helped the Cowboys overcome a minus-8 (33-25) differential on the boards against SJSU. The Cowboys’ minus-6.6 rebounding margin is the worst in the MW.
“We did a pretty bad job of rebounding the ball (Wednesday),” James said. “That’s definitely going to be a key going into Boise. They crash the boards pretty hard, but we’ll be ready.”
Boise State is averaging nearly 72 points a game in MW play thanks in part to the emergence of Derrick Alston, who’s worked his way into the Broncos’ starting lineup. The 6-foot-8 sophomore, who dropped a career-high 30 points on San Diego State on Jan. 5, is averaging 15.5 points in league games and shooting 49 percent from the field.
Throw in leading scorer Justinian Jessup (50 3-pointers) and Alex Hobbs, who scored a game-high 17 points against Wyoming the first time around, and there’s plenty to test how legitimate the defensive improvement is for the Cowboys, who have lost their first three league road games by an average of 24 points.
“I’ll take a look back at the game again to see where we had success and where they hurt us and see what we can do to maybe make some changes,” Edwards said. “I think the second time around is always like a chess match. What adjustments are you ready to make?”