Cowboys Scrape Past Sioux Falls, 62-54

Dec. 16, 2011

Laramie, Wyo. -

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Senior guard Francisco Cruz scored 14 points, 12 of which came in the second half, to guide the University of Wyoming men's basketball team to a hard-fought 62-54 win over the University of Sioux Falls on Friday night in the Arena-Auditorium. The Cowboys (11-1) trailed at halftime and traded the lead nine times with the Cougars (3-7) in the second half, before making a final run to win their ninth-straight contest.

"I appreciate [the win] and I told the team they will never hear me complain about a win," UW head coach Larry Shyatt said. "Obviously, we did get carved up in some areas tonight. Rebounding was really a problem. I do look at some things that I told the guys we need to focus on, like the turnover ratio, which probably helped us win tonight. Making free throws, we were 18-21, were crucial. We made them when we needed to make them."

Division II Sioux Falls showed heart throughout the contest and had the game tied at 49-49 with 5:30 to go, but redshirt junior guard Luke Martinez hit a layup and a three to push Wyoming in front by five with 3:26 left. The Cowboy defense did the job the rest of the way, holding USF to two baskets over the final five minutes, and free throws down the stretch iced the game.

Cruz went 6-of-13 from the field to reach double figures for the first time in four games, and also collected two assists and two steals. Martinez added 11 points and a career-high six rebounds, while senior guard JayDee Luster scored 13.

Wyoming shot 42 percent (21-of-50) but connected on just two of 16 three-point attempts, compared to 36 percent (17-of-47) and 31 percent (9-of-29) for Sioux Falls. The Cougars earned a 41-20 rebounding advantage, but committed 21 turnovers to a season-low five for Wyoming. UW shot 85 percent (18-of-21) from the free throw line.

"I think free throw shooting, making them down the stretch, and taking care of the ball were important tonight, because we sure weren't making shots," Shyatt said. "We got three stops quickly in a row at the end and that may well have been the difference."

Wyoming jumped out to an 8-2 lead at the 16:07 mark, including two baskets from Luster, but the game quickly turned into a defensive battle. USF crafted a 10-0 run to go up 12-8 midway through the first half, before both teams went without a point until redshirt junior forward Leonard Washington converted an old fashion three-point play with 5:21 left. The Cowboys climbed within one two more times, including five straight points from freshman forward Larry Nance Jr., and retook the lead, 20-19, with an Adam Waddell dunk at the 1:53 mark. USF hit back-to-back treys for the final two baskets of the half, though, to take a 25-20 lead into halftime.

UW's 20 points tied its lowest offensive performance of the first half this season, as Washington and Nance had five points each. The Cowboys were outrebounded 23-9, but forced USF into 13 turnovers in the opening frame. UW shot 32 percent (9-of-28) and hit no threes (0-of-8) in the first half compared to 38 percent (8-of-21) and 30 percent (4-of-13) for the Cougars.

It was a game of runs through the first five minutes of the second half. Wyoming clawed back to take a 30-29 lead, but back-to-back USF treys quickly put the Cougars back in front. The Cowboys tied the game again at 36-36 at the 15:15 mark, and the squads exchanged the lead nine times in the second half and multiple times over the next 10 minutes. Five-straight points from Martinez put UW up 54-49 with 3:26 to go, as UW held the Cougars to just two baskets over the final four minutes. Free throws from Waddell, Luster and Cruz down the stretch sealed the win.

Cruz scored 12 points in the second half, while Luster and Martinez had nine each. UW shot 54 percent (12-of-22) from the field.

Wyoming continues its season at Denver on Monday at 7 p.m.