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UNLV faces MW’s leading scorer in Wyoming’s Justin James

Updated February 18, 2019 - 5:41 pm

Justin James knows opponents will throw almost any kind of defense at him.

As Wyoming’s leading scorer — and the Mountain West’s — James has had his effectiveness tested by many strategies, the most common being double teams off ball screens.

“My game plan going into any game is to see how the defense is guarding me the first few possessions and play basketball after that,” James said.

UNLV (14-11, 8-5 MW) is the next team that will try to keep James from carrying the Cowboys (6-19, 2-10) to victory. CBS Sports Network will televise the game, which begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Arena-Auditorium in Laramie, Wyoming.

James, a 6-foot-7-inch senior guard, averages 20.7 points for a Wyoming team that scores only 65.3 points per game.

Wyoming’s struggles are not a surprise given the Cowboys had to replace departing seniors Hayden Dalton and Alan Herndon, who combined to average 29.5 points and 13.5 rebounds last season. Two other players graduated and five more transferred. Then the season began and injuries set in and forward Lwal Dung decided to play overseas.

“With the injuries, it’s obviously brought a lot of adversity to our group,” James said. “But it’s mainly been a team thing, everybody stepping up and everybody playing your role and increase their role a little bit. Obviously, with the ball being in my hands a lot of the games, there are going to be moments I have to make plays and the right decisions. But it isn’t just a me-step-up-and-me-take-over type of deal, it’s everybody steps up and everybody contributes.”

The numbers in many ways bear that out. James also averages 8.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists, so he isn’t just scoring and is getting his teammates involved.

“He has done everything we have asked him to do on and off the court,” Wyoming coach Allen Edwards said. “He’s been a great leader. A kid in his scenario and his situation could’ve easily shut it down, and that would’ve affected everybody else. But he continues to come to practice, and he continues to come to games with the right mentality and the right attitude and still trying to mentor these young men.

“I told him, ‘I don’t know how it’s going to end for you, but what you’re doing is helping this program. It’s helping this culture going forward. This is something in the sense of passing down your legacy because you’re sacrificing probably a lot of individual things for the betterment of this program, and I’m telling you we need more.’ ”

So did the NBA scouts.

James initially declared for the draft last season after he averaged 18.9 points, but made 30.8 percent of his 3-point attempts.

Despite shooting 29.3 percent from 3-point range this season, James has shown progress. He made 13 of 24 3-pointers over a four-game span before Saturday’s 82-49 loss to No. 6 UNR in which he went 0-for-7.

“I’ve never had a problem being a stand-still, catch-and-shoot type of guy,” James said. “But this is my first year where I have to make a lot of my 3-pointers coming off ball screens because the ball is in my hand most of the time. Just that little change in my game and continuing to improve will definitely help me in the next level.”

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Contact Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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