Aztecs prevail 80 - 75 over Cowboys with 23 points from Lamont Butler
Traveling to the “Dome of Doom” in Laramie Wyoming has been a business-as-usual trip for the Aztecs in recent years. Winners of nine straight and five of six in Laramie, the Aztecs have pretty much owned this series in recent years. A similar outcome was generally expected this time, except Wyoming, (0-3 in conference play and 5-10 overall) heading into the game had different ideas. The Cowboys kept the game close during the first half, trailing by one at 43-42. Despite having starters Graham Ike (foot injury) and Hunter Thompson (mono) out, the Cowboys needed to be a bit more unconventional in their approach. They invited the Aztecs to shoot from the perimeter, as their defense tended to collapse into the paint, protecting the middle. This was fine with Butler and the Aztecs as they took what the Cowboys gave them and shot their shots with the frequency of a repeating six-shooter. When the dust had settled, the Aztecs had taken 84 shots (26 from 3) and had converted 50% from the field and 46% from beyond the arc. Butler led the way for the Aztecs with 8/15 shooting and 5/11 from three. Matt Bradley contributed 18 points on 7/13 shooting and 2/4 from three. The Cowboys were paced by Hector Maldonado with 20 points, Jeremiah Oden with 15 and Xavier Dusell both with 15 and Brendan Wenzell with 14. The Aztecs might be thankful the Cowboys dressed only nine scholarship players.
Aztec Coach Brian Dutcher emphasized the challenges presented. “This is a hard place to play, no matter who they have. We did a good job finding a way to win in a tough place to platy.” With Butler shooting lights out, Bradley saved his best for later in the game to help close out the victory. He does what he usually does with drives and step-back shots. His clutch free throw shooting helped to seal the victory in a game that featured nine ties and 17 lead changes. Adding support to the Aztecs was TCU transfer Jaedon LeDee who merely contributed eight points, nine rebounds in eighteen minutes while being perfect from the field and the stripe. Defense was a struggle for the generally defensive Aztecs. They struggled against the CowPokes, who shot 57.8% from the field and had ten 3’s to add to their offensive repertoire. Aztec fans might be shaking their head as to the difficulty of the win against Wyoming. Remember teams are gunning for them. A hostile environment in a desolate, freezing locale doesn’t always feel good when a team from California travels. A win is a win and there will be other opportunities to put up style points. I might expect a more solid Aztec win when the Cowboys travel to Viejas Arena on March 4. Until then, the next course of business is home against conference leader Nevada, fresh off of a dominant and convincing win against previous upstart San Jose State. The Wolfpack show a consistent offense and swarming defense, having held the Spartans to a season-low 40 points. There is much parity in the conference this year and being 3-0 is an indicator that the Aztecs are indeed near or at the top of the conference. Tuesdays game will be the key matchup of the week and is an indicator of who will be the top dog.