LARAMIE — Wyoming was in the game its last time out right up until the moment it wasn’t.
It’s a scenario that plays out often for the Cowboys — one they have to better manage if they’re going to give themselves a realistic chance the remainder of this season.
One lengthy run is usually all teams need to put away Wyoming, which has wilted after taking a punch far more often than it’s hit back amid its 5-16 season. The Cowboys are losing Mountain West games by more than 21 points on average heading into Wednesday’s tilt at Air Force.
“The biggest thing to (our players) is, ‘Guys, this is the hurdle we have to get over. Until that happens, then nothing’s going to change,’” Wyoming coach Allen Edwards said. “We have to take care of what we can control.”
Wyoming hung around with Fresno State a week ago, going blow for blow with the No. 2 team in the MW standings for a 51-all tie 31 minutes in. Then Fresno State hit the Cowboys with three consecutive 3-pointers in a span of 68 seconds, sparking a quick 14-0 run Wyoming never recovered from in a 75-62 loss.
That came on the heels of Wyoming’s 25-point loss at Boise State, where the Cowboys got within seven points early in the second half before the Broncos ripped off a 14-5 run in 5 minutes to open up a 16-point lead that ballooned to as many as 31. Trips to San Diego State and New Mexico got away from Wyoming quicker than that in what turned into 30-point drubbings.
Even the Cowboys’ most competitive road game got away from them in a hurry. Leading UNLV by six early in the second half at the Thomas & Mack Center on Jan. 5, Wyoming surrendered a 20-2 run over the next 7 minutes that put the Runnin’ Rebels up 12 — a deficit the Cowboys cut to single digits just once the rest of the way in a 68-56 setback.Most teams, feeding off their crowd, perform better at home, but the difference for Wyoming has been stark. The Cowboys’ three home losses in conference play have come by an average of 14.3 points. Away from the Arena-Auditorium? They’re getting beat by 10 more points (24.3) on average.
“(Wednesday) will be a good situation for us because our fight at home has been better than on the road in the sense of when that punch happens on the road, it deflates us,” Edwards said.
It would be one thing if those teams were just that much better than the shorthanded Cowboys, who’ve been playing with a seven-man rotation that includes four freshmen for nine games now. Fresno State, which plays Utah State on Tuesday for sole possession of second place in the league, can make that case, but Boise State, San Diego State, UNLV and New Mexico are a combined 18-17 in MW play with SDSU and UNLV being the only ones in the top half of the league standings.
Air Force is another team in the bottom half of the league standings coming off its most lopsided loss of the conference slate in an 85-53 thrashing to Colorado State, though the Falcons have shown to be capable more often than not at Clune Arena. All but two of Air Force’s wins have come in their own building, including victories over SDSU and Boise State as well as a 106-88 beatdown of UNLV.
Of course, one thing Wyoming can control is turnovers. The Cowboys continue to cough it up at a staggering rate, averaging more than 14 turnovers on the season and nearly 17 in league play that often lead to easy baskets in transition for the opposition.
“I clipped all the turnovers (on film) and just let them watch,” Edwards said. “I said, ‘Guys, I would love to walk away from this saying they just beat the crap out of us rather than saying we just shot ourselves in the foot.’ I don’t know at the end of the day if we win or lose the game, but we’re in a better position if we take care of the things we can control.”
But Edwards and his team know runs are coming from Air Force with or without help. Holding their own will require as much mental fortitude as anything from the young Cowboys if they want to avoid another lopsided loss away from home.
“A lot of it does come back to maturity at the end of the day,” Edwards said. “I just think we have to grow. We have a take a step, particularly the young newer guys.”