Rested, rejuvenated Graham Ike could be key to knocking off UNLV
LARAMIE -- Jeff Linder will be the first to admit his team needed a break.
After playing seven games in 18 days to close out the regular season, Wyoming's second-year head coach said his team will utilize this four-day layoff to simply relax and regroup.
That will benefit everyone on this youthful roster -- including the coaches, Linder joked -- but arguably no one needs this down time more than Graham Ike.
After sinking all 11 of his shots from the floor in a 75-67 victory over Air Force on Feb. 19 in Laramie, the 6-foot-9, 252-pound forward found himself in the midst of a late-season slump.
How rough has it been?
Aside from a 23-point performance against Nevada, the conference's second-leading scorer (19.9 points per game) connected on just 19-of-58 attempts from the field in losses to Colorado State, San Diego State and UNLV. That also includes a 6-for-14 outing in the Cowboys' regular-season finale against Fresno State, a 68-64 overtime win inside the Arena-Auditorium.
That's less than 33%.
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More troubling, Ike attempted just 13 free throws during that four-game span. Through UW's first 25 games, the freshman was averaging eight freebies per game, ranking him No. 1 in that nation in that category.
Now, he's sixth.
"For Graham, it's just a matter of him just having a few days to kind of just catch his breath and get his legs back underneath him," Linder said. "I think it'll play a big part."
The Aurora, Colo., product suited up for just 12 games during his true freshman season, coming off an ACL tear he suffered during his senior campaign at Overland High School. This year, he's played in 30 of the Cowboys' 31 contests, missing a home tilt against cellar-dwelling San Jose State after slamming his right knee on the court in Reno.
Wyoming will take on UNLV Thursday afternoon in its opening game of the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas. The Pokes and Rebels hooked up inside the Thomas & Mack Center just six days ago.
Ike, who was voted Monday as an All-Mountain West First-Team selection by the league's media members, along with teammate, Hunter Maldonado, hit six of his 19 attempts and finished with 14 points in the 64-57 loss, the Cowboys' 19th straight against that team in that building.
He also toed the line for just four shots from the free-throw line.
Was Ike tired? Linder said that was obvious.
That's not the only excuse.
"The other part, too, is we played some good teams during that stretch," he said. "A lot of those teams, you know, try to get the ball out of his hands. Now, UNLV, they actually played him straight up. It's just part of it. It's part of the growth process."
Do the Rebels dare not deploy a double team on a rested Ike?
"That's a good question," Linder said. "With the size that they have, they said, 'hey, go try and beat us one on one.' Their guys did a good job of forcing him to go 6-of-19. So, we're ready for any and everything. This time of year, we've seen every type of coverage you could imagine.
"So, regardless of what they do, we'll have a plan."
Wyoming and UNLV are slated to tipoff at 3:30 p.m. MT and the game will be televised on CBS Sports Network.