Could Wyoming have drawn up a more disappointing way to open the 2018-19 basketball season? The Pokes dropped a 76-66 decision in Laramie Tuesday to the University of California at Santa Barbara.
Let’s dissect this loss a little further.
The Gauchos reside in the Big West Conference among the likes of Long Beach State, Cal State Northridge, Pacific, among others. College basketball is fantastic, and with more than 350 Division I teams, upsets of grand significance happen all the time. But rest assured, Wyoming has no business losing to a Big Sky team, especially at home.
UCSB resides at an elevation of 49 feet — a beautiful campus on the shores of the Pacific Ocean — and those beach boys ascended to 7,220 feet and had no trouble with the Cowboys. The Gauchos entered the game Tuesday at quite a bit of a disadvantage. As if playing on the road at elevation against a Mountain West Conference school wasn’t hard enough, UCSB was without its leading scorer from a year ago — who averaged north of 19 points per game — because of a concussion.
That didn’t seem to affect UCSB offensively. The Gauchos shot it at 51.1 percent from the floor and hit seven 3-pointers. UW head coach Allen Edwards always preaches defensive intensity and USCB, in its first game of the season, in an unfamiliar arena, looked in crisp midseason form.
Wyoming, on the other hand, appeared downright dysfunctional for long stretches Tuesday. The Pokes shot 36.2 percent from the floor and connected on just 5 of 29 from behind the 3-point arc.
Preseason first-team All-MWC selection Justin James didn’t score in the first five minutes of the game and only had three points at halftime. Now, he did end up with a game-high 20 points, but on 5 of 14 shooting.
For this young and inexperienced Wyoming team — comprised of eight newcomers, five of which are freshman — to be successful this season, James needs to make a larger impact and assert himself early in games. The young guys in the brown and gold need someone to lean on, especially early in the season as roles are identified. James needs to lead, and sometimes that involves being a little more selfish.
Edwards has long lauded this recruiting class, stating that the new players fit his mold. And while I don’t expect all five true freshman to play or make a significant impact during their first season with the program, to have none of them see the floor in the opener is somewhat concerning.
Pine Bluffs native Hunter Thompson stood as one of the lone bright spots for Wyoming Tuesday. The 6-foot-10 redshirt freshman made his first two baskets as a Cowboy, the second of which was a smooth 3-pointer.
With senior forward Jordan Naughton out for a significant portion of the nonconference season with an injured knee, Thompson will most likely be asked to do more, and early indications are he’s ready for the challenge. Unfortunately, fans may not see Thompson for some time after he got hit in the face with an elbow and is in concussion protocol for the foreseeable future.
It wasn’t great, and I’m not saying all is lost after the first game of the season, but Tuesday was about as bad as it could have been for the Pokes.
• The University of Wyoming football team kept its bowl hopes alive with a 24-9 victory over San Jose State last weekend. The Pokes improved to 4-6 on the season and, after a bye this weekend, will host Air Force Nov. 17.
• UW’s wrestling team started its season at the Cowboy Open and crowned nine grapplers.
• UW’s women’s basketball team opened the season with an 80-33 victory over Division II Chadron State.