LARAMIE — It might sound ridiculous to say that Hayden Dalton has flown under the radar this season. The Wyoming senior is averaging 18.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per game in conference play, fourth and sixth in the Mountain West, respectively. He’s had two 30-point games this year — including a 36-point performance against San Diego State to open conference play — and he scored his 1,000th career point at UNLV.
Still, those who watched Dalton last season aren’t likely to be surprised when the forward scores 20 points in a game. Dalton’s high ceiling is old news. (Well, not counting the 36-point nights.)
But that can make it hard to notice just how high his floor has become.
“That was one big thing coming off last year,” Dalton said. “Some games I would play well and then other games I would turn it over, play inconsistent. But I think this year I’ve definitely been (more consistent). Obviously, I’ve had some bad games. Everybody has bad games. But I think that was one thing that I was trying to get better at was being consistent.”
Compared to his 2016-17 numbers, which earned him an honorable mention all-conference nod, Dalton is averaging six more points per game this season and 0.2 fewer turnovers, despite playing 6.4 more minutes per game. His assist and rebound numbers are each down 0.2 per game, but he’s shooting 3.6 percent better from the field, 6.4 percent better from 3-point range and a tick better from the free throw line.
His 3-point percentage is 58th best in the country, and he’s one of five Mountain West players hitting more than 40 percent of their 3-pointers in conference play.
Before Wyoming’s win Saturday at Fresno State, when Dalton scored 17 points, he had scored 20-plus points in seven straight games and nine of his last 10.
That consistency is a result of Dalton’s increased study habits during the last offseason.
“I watched a lot of film from last year,” Dalton said. “So I watched where I would turn the ball over, just where I could get better defensively a lot. And then just looking for more ways I could help the team on the offensive end, whether it be scoring or assisting.”
Consistency is just as much about avoiding lows as it is achieving highs. Last season, Dalton scored fewer than 15 points in 10 conference games. This year, with two regular-season games remaining, he has done that just three times. Dalton shot worse than 40 percent from the field in nine Mountain West games last season. This season, he has four such games.
At times, Dalton had struggled to match his home production away from the Arena-Auditorium. He’s still not doing that, but mostly because he’s setting the bar too high for himself: At home in conference play, Dalton is averaging 24.8 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. Still, he’s no slouch away from Laramie either, averaging 15.1 points and 7.0 rebounds at other Mountain West venues.
“I think I kind of realized my confidence level at home was a lot higher,” Dalton said. “And I was telling myself, ‘What’s different on the road? It’s a basketball court with hoops.’ So just go out there with the same confidence level.”
Of course, consistency isn’t all about the offense. Dalton feels like he has improved in that regard on the other end of the floor, too.
“I’ve been definitely more consistent on the defensive end, something I can still improve on,” he said. “I mean, (in last week’s 119-114 loss to New Mexico) none of us played good on the defensive end. But I’ve been more consistent, and I think my feet have gotten better, just staying in front of guys, stuff like that.”
And the more he does it, the harder he makes it to not pay attention.