Mar. 6—LARAMIE — As a young team trying to find its footing in a wildly competitive Mountain West, coach Jeff Linder knows every game, even a loss, is some type of learning experience for the University of Wyoming men.
Thursday's 13-point loss at reigning conference tournament champion Utah State's home court was another tough lesson learned.
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UW (12-10 overall, 6-9 MW) was able to hang around the Aggies early with help from a 3-point barrage. The Cowboys hit eight shots from deep in the first half, held the Aggies to under 41% from the field and trailed by three heading into halftime.
Utah State was a different team out of the locker room, however, holding UW to just 1-of-14 shooting from the 3-point line while hitting nearly 52% of its own shots from the field.
Sometimes, the older team just knows what to do when times get tough.
"A team like that, with their experience, you can see the discipline and effort between juniors and seniors and freshmen and sophomores," Linder said.
Linder said it was a particularly good opportunity for freshman Graham Ike to learn from one of the MW's best players, center Neemias Queta. Queta, one of the leading contenders for conference player of the year honors, scored 14 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked a whopping five shots.
His matchup with Ike was predictably one-sided, but it also gave the Colorado product a chance to learn from one of the best in college basketball.
"He got to see what it's like playing against a pro," Linder said. "Everybody talks about wanting to be a pro until you actually walk into a real guy. And now you have to do things a bit quicker.
"But those are the things that now, when you go back to practice, and we're talking about quick finishing and how quick you got to get it up, those are some of the things that we can fall back on."
The Cowboys finish off their regular-season slate today at the Arena-Auditorium with a previously postponed matchup against UNLV. The teams were slated to play a two-game series in December, but it was called off due to COVID-19 issues in the Runnin' Rebels' program, and a single matchup was slated instead.
UNLV (11-13, 8-9) is coming off a tight nine-point loss against San Diego State. Despite having a losing record, the Runnin' Rebels have been largely competitive this season, having beaten Utah State once and losing to the Aggies and Boise State (once each) by single digits.
UNLV is led by guard Bryce Hamilton, who averages 18 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. Fellow guard David Jenkins Jr. averages 15.2 points per game.
Following tonight's game, the Cowboys will travel to the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas for next week's MW Tournament. A year ago, UW stunned the field by defeating both Colorado State and Nevada en route to a surprising semifinal appearance before ultimately losing to eventual champion Utah State by seven points.
While another loss at the hands of one of the conference's best teams was a tough pill to swallow Thursday, Linder is confident it's all leading up to something better.
"This game (against Utah State) will help us moving into Saturday's game, and then moving into the Mountain West Tournament," Linder said.
Michael Katz covers the University of Wyoming for WyoSports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-755-3325. Follow him on Twitter at @michaellkatz.