Jan 22, 2013 - The Associated PressTeams are playing the University of Wyoming men's basketball team differently defensively.
That's what coach Larry Shyatt said after the Cowboys' 58-45 win over then-No. 15 San Diego State last Saturday. That loss dropped the Aztecs out of The Associated Press Top 25 Poll, and they fell from No. 14 to No. 25 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
Shyatt alluded to how teams defend his two big men -- senior forward Leonard Washington and sophomore forward Larry Nance Jr. He elaborated on that point during Monday's Mountain West coaches teleconference.
"It's pretty clear Larry and Leonard aren't going to have too many opportunities to put the ball on the deck and make plays," Shyatt said. "They're really going to have to rely on one dribble at the most because either (teams) are running somebody at them or just keep digging.
"That has sort of been the situation since we lost one of our better shooters."
That shooter is senior guard Luke Martinez, who was arrested and charged last week with aggravated assault and battery stemming from a Dec. 30 fight outside the Buckhorn Bar in Laramie. Martinez is suspended indefinitely from the team. He was the Cowboys' leading scorer (14.5 points per game) and led the team in 3-pointers (35) and 3-point shooting percentage (42.2).
Washington is second on the team in scoring (14.4 ppg) and assists (2.4 apg). Nance is fourth in scoring (10.6 ppg) and has 21 assists. In UW's last two games, Washington has averaged 10 points on 8-of-21 shooting and 1.5 assists per game. Nance has averaged 10.5 points and had two assists.
"We knew it was going to happen, so we have been practicing a lot on it," Washington said of teams focusing more on him and Nance. "We work every day on protecting the ball and find our open teammates.
"Mainly, it is not being rushed. If they run two guys at us, we have to have the patience to look over the defense. If two guys are on us, one guy is open, so we have to find the open man."
The Cowboys' top perimeter shooting threats without Martinez are sophomore guard Riley Grabau and senior point guard Derrious Gilmore. Grabau has made 37 percent of his 3-point shots, but was just 1-of-4 against San Diego state. Gilmore has made 39.8 percent, but in his last two games is just 2-of-11.
UW's other starting guard, true freshman Josh Adams, has scored in double figures in three of the five games Martinez has been out and has averaged 9.8 points per game during those five contests. However, he is shooting just 20.4 percent from 3-point range.
"It is our job as guards to find the gap when teams collapse on Leonard and Larry and make sure we can hit some shots for them," Adams said. "I think our perimeter game is solid. I may be struggling a little bit, but Derrious and Riley are shooting the ball really well. If I can get the ball, draw defenders to me and kick it out to one of them, that will work out fine for us."
UW (15-2 overall, 2-2 MW) plays at UNLV (15-4, 2-2) Thursday. The Rebels have one of the bigger frontcourts in the conference with freshman forward Anthony Bennett (6-foot-8), junior Mike Moser (6-8), sophomore Khem Birch (6-9), senior Quintrell Thomas (6-8) and junior Carlos Lopez-Sosa (6-11).
Bennett is second in the MW in scoring (18.5 ppg) and fifth in rebounding (8.7 rpg). Moser was the league's newcomer of the year and unanimous all-conference pick last season, but he dislocated an elbow earlier this season and aggravated the injury in last Saturday's road loss at Colorado State.
Bennett returned to the Colorado State game after he re-injured the elbow, and UNLV coach Dave Rice said he expects Bennett to play against UW.
UNLV leads the conference in field-goal percentage defense (37.8 percent) and is second in 3-point shooting percentage defense (29 percent). The team has shot less than 32 percent from the field in four of its last six halves.
UW has a quick turnaround after the UNLV game as it hosts Air Force on Saturday.
Air Force hosts New Orleans in its final nonconference game Wednesday and has an extra day to prepare for UW.
"I wish they were playing UNLV Friday," Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich said. "Somewhere along the line, you would like to think you gain an advantage. But I think when the ball is thrown up, coach Shyatt will have them ready to play."
Shyatt said UW's only focus now is UNLV. On whether Air Force has the advantage in terms of preparation, he said: "We will probably know the answer to that by about 10 p.m. Saturday."
UW played games on three consecutive nights in November in its own tournament. It won those games over North Carolina Central, South Dakota and Southern by an average of 13.3 points.
Colorado State (15-3, 2-1) won its school-record 24th consecutive home game last Saturday over UNLV.
The Rams are receiving votes in both the AP and coaches top 25 polls, but New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV and Wyoming all either have more votes or are ranked in both. First-year coach Larry Eustachy posed a question to one of the reporters on the teleconference about the polls, not based on his team not being ranked but how the rankings work overall. Eustachy used Creighton and Wichita State as the example.
Both are 17-2, and Wichita State beat Creighton last week at home.