The Cowboys hit 14 three pointers and held Air Force to 36 percent from the field on their way to a 84-72 victory in the Mountain West Conference opener in the Arena-Auditorium on Wednesday evening. The 14 three pointers tied for the second most this season and the third most in a single-game in UW history. The Cowboys move to 11-3 on the season and 1-0 in the MW, as Air Force is now 7-7 overall and 0-1 in the MW. The Cowboys are now 9-0 at home this season and move to 76-36 all-time against the Falcons. It was also UW’s 40th win in Laramie against Air Force.
“A big key for us tonight was the way we defended Air Force,” UW head coach Allen Edwards said. “At the end of the day, you can’t take away everything they like to do but you have to narrow it down. We told our guys to focus on not giving up any back cuts and to guard the three-point line. We wanted to give up contested twos rather than easy layups or threes. I think our guys really did a nice job other than one late back cut in the second half.”
The Cowboys had five players score in double-figures for the second time this season. Junior forwards Hayden Dalton and Alan Herndon led UW in scoring with 15 points.. Junior guard Alexander Aka Gorski and sophomore guard Justin James added 14 points. Senior guard Jason McManamen added 11 points. Both Aka Gorski and McManamen also handed out a career-high six assists. Redshirt freshman Andrew Moemeka added a career-high eight points. All his points come via the dunk.
The Pokes dished out 21 assists. UW has 20 or more assists four times this season. The 21 assists against Air Force is tied for second-most this season. The Cowboys held the Falcons to 35.6 percent from the field. UW leads the MW and ranks No. 24 in the nation in field goal percentage defense. UW grabbed 34 defensive rebounds. The Pokes came into the game No. 7 in the nation in defense boards at 31.1 per game.
“I tell our guys all the time that when we share the basketball we have such a balanced attack it’s difficult for our opponents to focus on shutting one or two guys down,” Edwards said. “The guys did a good job of finding open teammates and getting to the basket. I also thought Andrew Moemeka did a great job of running the floor and finishing around the rim.”
Air Force shot 36 percent from the field going 26-of-73. The Falcons were 7-of-22 from behind the arc for 32 percent. Air Force out rebounded the Cowboys 45-44 on the night. The Cowboys held Air Force to 72 points. The Falcons headed into the game leading the MW in scoring at 78.7 points per game.
“Air Force’s offense is a complicated system, and you have to adjust your defensive principles to guard it,” Edwards said. “The luxury of it was we had a few days to prep for it. I never teach our players to defend their offense as a whole, I break it down into pieces. It is more about defending the specific pieces of their offense that focusing on the whole. It is about defending the back-door cuts and the three-point line and everything in between we just focus on hustling.”
The Falcons gained a 6-2 advantage on the Pokes to open the game, but unselfish play put the Cowboys on an 8-0 run to take a 10-6 lead six minutes into the game. The Pokes defense was also strong recording three blocks in the opening minutes.
The Pokes added to their lead with a pair of three pointers from redshirt freshman guard Cody Kelley and Herndon to take a 16-8 advantage halfway through the frame. The Pokes we’re sharing the basketball during the run with five assists on their first six baskets.
A 10-0 run put the Falcons back into the contest to make it 18-18 with 7:32 remaining in the opening frame. Air Force was crashing the boards hard with eight offensive boards in the first 12 minutes of the contest.
A 14-0 run fueled by seven points by Dalton highlighted by a huge dunk from the reining MW Player of the Week gave UW a 32-18 lead with 4:17 remaining in the frame. The Pokes held the Falcons scoreless for over four minutes during the run.
The Falcons battled with a 6-0 run to make it 34-26 Cowboys with under two minutes left, but the run was halted by a triple from James to expand the Pokes lead back to double-digits. James would close the half with an 18-foot jumper to give UW a 41-26 lead heading to the break.
The Falcons tried to cut into the Pokes lead to start the second half, but the Pokes used the three ball to build their lead to the largest of the contest to that point at 16 with a 51-35 score five minutes into the half. The run was paced by a triple by McManamen, his first of the contest marked the 37-consecutive game he has hit a triple.
The Pokes continued to use the three ball effectively in the half with three more triples by McManamen, Dalton and Aka Gorski to make it a 63-42 game with 11:20 reminding in the second frame. The Cowboys extended the lead to 25 points at 73-48 with 8:27 remaining. During that stretch of play, UW held the Falcons to 1-of-8 from the field. The cowboys led by as much as 28 in the second half.
A late 10-0 run by the Falcons made it a 79-63 game. Air Force went on a 9-0 run to make it an 82-72 game with under a minute left in the game. But the comeback effort fell short as UW took the contest, 84-72.
Air force was led in scoring by forward frank Toohey, as he poured in 11 points and added a team-high seven rebounds. Ryan Manning also scored in double-figures with 10 points on the night.
The Cowboys return to action on Saturday heading to UNLV for a 2 p.m. MT contest in the Thomas & Mack Center.