Jan. 25—LARAMIE — The University of Wyoming went into Tuesday's matchup with UNLV tied for 268th in the country in 3-point defense, allowing opponents to shoot 35.3% from deep (156-of-442) through its first 19 games.
That number rose again during the Cowboys' 20th game, an 86-72 loss to the Rebels on Tuesday night in Las Vegas. UNLV finished the game 11-of-20 (55%) from deep to drop UW to 6-14 overall and 1-7 in conference play.
The loss gives the Cowboys sole possession of last place in a potent Mountain West conference. The Rebels passed UW in the standings, improving to 13-7 and 2-6.
The Rebels led for all but 19 seconds against the Cowboys, running out to an early 15-10 lead midway through the first half and stretching the lead to 41-31 going into the halftime break. UNLV shot 16-of-29 from the field in the first 20 minutes, including 6-of-11 from 3-point range, while UW was held to 12-of-30 shooting from the field.
UNLV opened the second half with three more 3-pointers, stretching its lead to 52-39 with less than 15 minutes remaining in the game. After an 11-0 run from the Rebels, the Cowboys scored nine consecutive points to cut the lead to six with less than 5 minutes left to play, but the Rebels pulled away in the final minutes with the help of a five-point play from Elijah Harkless.
UW's Xavier DuSell was called for a shooting foul on a 3-point attempt with 2 minutes and 29 seconds left to play and the Cowboys trailing by 10. After the foul, UW coach Jeff Linder was called for a technical foul to give Harkless five consecutive free throws.
Harkless made all five, stretching the lead from 10 points to 15 and erasing any hopes the Cowboys had of making a late comeback.
"From what I saw, he kicked his legs out, and that's an obvious flop call," Linder said after the game. "You can't miss that call on that stage. That's just — go back and watch it, it's not even close."
The Cowboys were coming off their first conference win of the season, a 58-57 win over Colorado State at home last Saturday. The loss was UW's ninth in the past 10 games.
Seeing the effort from his team in the second half was a positive, but Linder knows trying to overcome a 16-point deficit on the road in conference play isn't a formula for success, especially in the MW.
"The fight's great, but you shouldn't have to start fighting when you're down 16 to get the level of urgency and desperation to get stops," Linder said. "Unfortunately, that's where this team's at. If the team that showed up for Colorado State shows up here, then it's probably a different story, but that's the reason our record is what it is.
"We just don't have the ability to have a consistent amount of effort that's required to win in a league that has really good teams. We're talking about one of the best leagues in the country. We're not good enough to just show up and think we're going to beat teams. That's the reality."
The Rebels shot 29-of-54 (53.7%) from the field for the game, including an 11-of-20 (55%) clip from beyond the arc. Conversely, the Cowboys shot 24-of-59 (40.7%) from the field and 14-of-33 (42.4%) from deep, eight of which came during the second-half comeback attempt.
The Rebels added 17 points on 20 attempts from the free-throw line and outscored the Cowboys 30-20 in the paint. UNLV's bench also played a big role, with the Rebels' bench outscoring UW's 28-3.
"You're not going to change unless you have the ability to find ways to get better defensively," Linder said. "The reality is, it's the same defensive scheme that allowed us to win 25 games last year and the same defensive scheme that allowed us to be top 75 in the country last year. Right now, we're probably in the 300-range.
"Some of those guys in the locker room, at some point, they have to hold each other accountable. We're not the ones out there playing. We're the ones that give them the plan. UNLV didn't do anything tricky. UNLV just put their head down and drove like we knew they were going to do. Give them credit, they went out there and made shots, but you have to find ways to make them miss shots if you want to win games in this league."
Noah Reynolds led the Cowboys with 23 points, but the lefty shot just 8-of-21 (38.1%) from the field and 4-of-11 (36.4%) from deep. DuSell had another strong performance offensively, finishing with 18 points, all coming from beyond the 3-point stripe.
Hunter Maldonado, who missed last week's 82-74 loss at Air Force with a rib injury, left the game in the second half after falling hard to floor and landing on his back. While he did return to the game minutes later, Linder said the veteran guard will be evaluated when the team returns to Laramie.
Harkless had a monster game for the Rebels, finishing with a game-high 28 points on 8-of-15 shooting and an 11-of-11 mark at the free-throw line. UNLV also collected six blocks against the Cowboys, including two from Victor Iwuakor and two from Elijah Parquet.
It's no secret the Cowboys' defense struggles at the 3-point line. Teams have started to hone in on UW's perimeter defense, something Linder knows the team needs to improve on going forward.
"It's been a death by 1,000 paper cuts," Linder said. "Those little mistakes, the league is too good. It's one of the top 5 or 6 leagues in the country. You can't afford to make those little mistakes against teams of this caliber."
The Cowboys will take the weekend off to rest and get healthy before returning to the court next week. UW will rematch Fresno State (7-12, 3-5) at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Arena Auditorium.
The Bulldogs beat the Cowboys 58-53 last month in California to start the conference season.
UNLV 86, WYOMING 72
UNLV: Iwuakor 1-4 3-4 5, Parquet 2-6 0-0 4, Gilbert 5-9 0-0 12, Webster 3-4 0-0 9, Harkless 8-15 11-11 28, Hall 4-4 1-3 10, Muoka 0-1 0-0 0, Nowell 2-4 0-0 6, McCabe 4-7 2-2 12. Totals: 29-54 17-20.
Wyoming: Thompson 2-4 3-3 9, Anderson 2-6 4-7 9, Reynolds 8-21 3-3 23, Maldonado 5-7 0-1 11, DuSell 6-13 0-0 18, Barnhart 0-2 0-0 0, Oden 1-6 0-0 3. Totals: 24-59 10-14.
Halftime: UNLV 41-31. 3-pointers: UW 14-33 (Thompson 2-4, Reynolds 4-11, Maldonado 1-2, DuSell 6-9, Barnhart 0-1, Oden 1-6); UNLV 11-20 (Parquet 0-2, Gilbert 2-4, Webster 3-4, Harkless 1-2, Hall 1-1, Nowell 2-4, McCabe 2-3). Rebounds: UNLV 33 (Gilbert 8, Harkless 8), UW 30 (Thompson 8). Assists: UNLV 14 (McCabe 4), UW 14 (Maldonado 4). Turnovers: UNLV 7 (Gilbert 2), UW 6 (Reynolds 3). Blocks: UNLV 6 (), UW 0. Steals: UW 3 (Powell 1, Maldonado 1, Thompson 1), UNLV 2 (Iwuakor 2, Parquet 2). Team fouls: UW 14, UNLV 11.
Attendance: Not available.
Alex Taylor covers the University of Wyoming for WyoSports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 269-364-3560. Follow him on Twitter at @alex_m_taylor22.