Part of the reason Wyoming men’s basketball is in a good position for a first-round bye at the Mountain West tournament is because the Cowboys have been able to pick up wins against the top teams in the conference. Saturday, Wyoming can secure that bye, which goes to the top-five teams, with one more win against a top-three team.
The Cowboys finish their regular season Saturday in Boise, Idaho, and with a second win against Boise State — Wyoming beat the Broncos on Jan. 6 in Laramie — they will punch their ticket to the quarterfinals.
The Cowboys can also snag the No. 5 seed with a loss by San Diego State, which is currently tied with Wyoming at 10-7 in Mountain West play. The Aztecs play first-place Nevada at 8 p.m. Mountain Time. But that’s not the route Wyoming is hoping to follow.
“You never want to leave your fate in another team’s hands,” point guard Cody Kelley said. “I think it’s kind of cool how you can just go and take what’s yours, and that’s kind of what we’re thinking. We just want to control our destiny by doing that and not leaving it up to a team losing. Why don’t we just do it ourselves and grab it for us?”
The Cowboys’ first win over Boise State, which came by one point in overtime, was the Broncos’ first loss of conference play. They won seven of their next eight games after that.
“I think we just defended well,” Kelley said. “I remember in the first half, at least, we kind of took them out of the things that they wanted to do. They’re really good at running offense, really good at shooting the 3 ball. ... I think we did a solid job of just kind of taking them out of what they wanted to do and kind of taking (Chandler) Hutchison out, too. I think that’s going to be one key to the game for Saturday.”
Hutchison, a candidate for Mountain West player of the year, leads the league with 19.8 points per game this season, 0.1 ahead of Wyoming’s Justin James.
“At the end of the day, just make it tough on him,” Wyoming head coach Allen Edwards said. “I don’t know if you can sit up there and just say stop a guy of his talent. I think you just make it tough. Hopefully, in the sense of whatever he does, he has to take a lot of shots to get whatever he gets.
“But I don’t know if anybody in our conference has had the ability to just completely shut him down. I think (Boise State coach Leon) Rice utilizes him really well within what they’re doing, and then he spaces the other guys around him to make his game more effective.”
The Cowboys succeeded at containing Hutchison the first time around. He had 27 points at Wyoming, but made just 6-of-19 shots from the field.
“Well, I think that one thing we’ve just got to understand is it’s not just one guy’s job to defend a high-level player like that,” Kelley said. “We’ve got to work as a team, and all five guys need to be on the same page, so we know where the help’s coming from, we know what we’re doing on ball screens and all that.”
The Cowboys last won in Boise in 2013-14, having lost two since. Before January’s game, Wyoming had lost four straight games to the Broncos.
“Obviously, going on the road at Boise is not an easy task, but that’s just the nature of our league, and then obviously it being Senior Night for them,” Edwards said. “But at the same time, our guys are ready and prepared to go in there and execute our game plan to best of their ability.”
The Cowboys have won four road games in Mountain West play this season, two more than last year.
“It really doesn’t matter to us where it’s at or what’s going on because as long as it’s around basketball and the court’s the same length, we’re just fine,” Kelley said. “I think just winning a couple road games in general just gives guys confidence, just to know that we can do it, for one. Obviously, we are more comfortable at home, but once you get into the swing of things, the game’s 40 minutes, and someone’s going to come out on top.”