On the Offensive: Cowboys Have to Take Advantage of Opponents Focus on James

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Justin James’ numbers are impressive.

The Cowboys results, however, aren’t.

And Wyoming basketball coach Allen Edwards knows an adjustment needs to be made.

The Cowboys may be short on healthy bodies in their bid to end a five-game losing streak against Division I competition – and claim their first Mountain West victory of the season in Tuesday night’s game at San Diego State.

It’s no knock on James. It’s more a need for the six other scholarship players on the Cowboys active roster to step up and take advantage of the defensive charge that opponents have been putting on James, and it’s more the necessity to find ways to give James an occasional rest.

The numbers that stand out are his Mountain West-leading 20.9 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 139 free throw attempts and an average 38 minutes per game, which ranks third nationally, as well as No. 1 in the conference.

The numbers that can’t be ignored, however, are the 38 shooting percentage, lowest of his career, and a current three-game stretch in which he has been on the court for 118 of a possible 120 minutes, and in the second half of those three games he has scored a total of nine points, hitting two of 12 field goal attempts, and five of eight free throws.

“Some of it is rest,” said Edwards. “Also, there is an adjustment factor. What (UNLV) did (Saturday) was run two players at him. That’s not a bad thing for us. If they are going to run two guys at him, we have to be able to attack that scenario.

“Now, we’re talking a four-on-three situation instead of five-on-five. We have to attack that move.”

It was never more evident than at UNLV last weekend. They led by as many as seven points in the first half (30-23 with 3:36 to go) and were up by six (31-25) with 1:44 before the break. Vegas, however, cut that deficit to two points before halftime, and less than three minutes into the second half, the Runnin’ Rebels had taken the lead for good on a Joel Ntambwe three-pointer that put them up 38-36.

That was in the midst of what became a 20-4 Vegas run that the Cowboys couldn’t answer.

That must change, and it starts with the rest of the Cowboys taking advantage of the opportunity they are being given.

“I never felt Justin has to score,” Edwards said. “He just has to be a basketball player. When teams do that, he’s doing his job. Now, we have to make the next best play. We just need to have other guys more assertive in those situations.”

The numbers tell the story. James was held to two points and the Cowboys 24 points in the second half at Las Vegas. While freshman Trace Young, in his third game since having his redshirt pulled, scored 10 points, the five other Cowboys combined scored only 12. That, however, came after Young was held scoreless in the first half, attempting only two shots in 17 minutes.

That came after back-to-back 16-point efforts for Young, who has been an impact player from beyond the line, showing no hesitation to take and make three-point shots several feet deep. The 6-foot-9 “point forward,” as he describes his role, is 7-for-10 on three-point shots. The rest of the roster is 6-for-23 in the three games since Young started to play.

And Edwards can see even more impact from Young in the coming weeks.

“One of the things I talked Trace about is when we try to give JJ a rest or Thompson a rest he is a valuable scorer for us,” said Edwards. “Where I’d like to see him grow is the other end of the floor. He is on the ball, he has a great stance, but he has no hand activity. He can affect some of the things that the other team does with his ability to try and get deflections and going in rebound the basketball.

“He is going to be a special talent.”

In the present, however, the focus for Young and the rest of the Cowboys is picking up the slack when the opposition focuses on James.