LARAMIE, Wyo. — Wyoming's basketball team doesn't have any cowboys named Tex or Hoss. The closest thing might be Turk.
But a few high plains drifters named Fennis Dembo, Les Bolden, Turk Boyd and Eric Leckner hung a 99-90 loss on Loyola Marymount Monday night to eliminate the Lions from the National Invitation Tournament.
The Lions should have gotten out of town by sundown. The combination of the 7,000-foot altitude, a fervid crowd of 11,658--roughly half the population of Laramie--and Wyoming's 77% shooting in the first half doomed the Lions to defeat in the NIT's second round.
Loyola finished the season at 19-11. Wyoming improved to 22-11 and will play host to Clemson in the quarterfinals Thursday.
The point total for the crowd-pleasing shootout was Wyoming's highest of the season and a record for Wyoming's four-year-old Arena Auditorium. Loyola's total was a record for opponents.
Coach Jim Brandenburg's team not only outshot the Lions, it outran them, too.
"We really don't like the up-and-down, just shoot it at each end," said Bolden, who had 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting. "We weren't trying to get into a run-and-gun game with them."
Sure. And the Earps and Clantons weren't looking for trouble at the OK Corral.
Loyola guard Keith Smith, who scored 20 points in his last collegiate game, said: "The game plan was to tease them into taking the 20-foot shots."
Wyoming did just that, hitting 27 of 35 shots in the half including 12 from around Wyoming's 19-foot three-point line.
The pace was so torrid in the first half that at one point the teams scored on 12 straight possessions. However, Smith went out for a breather with Loyola trailing, 28-24, and Wyoming quickly pulled out to a 10-point lead before Smith could return.
Wyoming rarely missed for the rest of the half and built a 57-41 halftime lead. The Cowboys pulled away despite Loyola's 53% shooting.
"Our guys got a little frustrated and started taking some ineffective shots the last six minutes," Loyola Coach Paul Westhead said. "Our guys don't normally do that, but they don't normally experience that kind of shooting at the other end."
By halftime, all of Wyoming's starters except Leckner had topped their game averages. Dembo had 16 first-half points on 8-of-9 shooting and finiShed with 24 points, plus 10 rebounds and 8 assists. Bolden had 15 of his 20 points on 7-of-8 shooting, Boyd had 9 on 4 of 5 and finished with 20 and Leckner, the 6-11 sophomore from Manhattan Beach, had 11 at the half and finished with 20. The team shot 66% for the game.
Westhead said: "Our guys played as hard as they can. The way Wyoming was shooting, I don't know what more we could do."
Loyola trailed by double figures most of the second half, fighting to within 10 at 84-74 with 3:20 left. The final margin was the closest the Lions got.
Sophomore forward Mike Yoest, who was visibly winded by the altitude, nonetheless kept Loyola close with 17 second-half points and finished with a career-high 25. Forrest McKenzie had 24 in his final Loyola game. Loyola shot 50% for the game.
"We won it on defense," Brandenburg said. "Their defense was a little worse than ours."