ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — After taking two-time defending Mountain West champion New Mexico to overtime in Laramie, Wyo., on Jan. 8, the Wyoming Cowboys were hopeful tonight’s rematch in the Pit might be a prime opportunity for a program-solidifying road win.
That was before starting guard Josh Adams threw a punch at a Utah State player on Saturday, leading to his suspension for tonight’s game, and before a viral infection for head coach Larry Shyatt leaves him off his team’s bench for the third game in the past two weeks.
But don’t tell the Lobos (17-4, 8-1 Mountain West), winners of five-straight and 10 of their last 11, that tonight’s game is any less of a challenge with the Cowboys not at full strength.
“We’ll get in trouble if we start looking ahead,” UNM head coach Craig Neal said. “My job is to keep them grounded and to keep them focused on the next one, and the next one is (today) against a very tough team that can win here.”
In UNM’s 72-69 overtime victory in Laramie, the difference really wasn’t about the Lobo stars as much as it was about the combined 20 points, 10 rebounds and 4-of-4 3-point shooting from wing players Deshawn Delaney and Cleveland “Pancake” Thomas.
“Obviously their Big Three are playing very well … but I think one of the biggest differences between the first time that we played them and this time is their other part(s) are really playing well,” Wyoming assistant coach Jeremy Shyatt said. “Hugh Greenwood, Cullen Neal, we kind of woke up the sleeping giant in Deshawn Delaney the last time we played them. I think they’re getting deeper and deeper.”
The Cowboys (14-7, 5-3) will be coached tonight by associate head coach Scott Duncan, who, like Larry Shyatt was a UNM assistant in the 1980s. He’s also the coach who has had the primary scouting responsibilities on UNM for the past few seasons when the Cowboys have found different ways to keep most games with the Lobos low scoring, ugly and close.
Wyoming, which last beat UNM in January 2011, will miss Adams’ 12.1 points per game (second on the team behind 16.2 from forward Larry Nance, Jr.) and his defense against UNM’s Kendall Williams.
“It doesn’t change anything for us,” Neal said of Adams’ suspension. “It’ll change something for them, but it’s not going to change how we play or what we do.”
Wyoming will rely on reserves Charles Hankerson Jr. and Trey Washington III to step up their production in Adams’ absence.