LARAMIE — The Wyoming men’s basketball team played largely without its leading scorer Friday night in its season-opening win against Chattanooga. Hayden Dalton made it apparent he very well could claim that spot as his own this season.
The senior posted a career-high 30 points and tied a career high with five made 3-pointers, as preseason all-conference junior Justin James was limited to 13 minutes with a left ankle injury. Wyoming won the game 74-65, and Dalton was the only Cowboy to score in double figures.
“Us as a team, we always love playing at home,” Dalton said. “It’s always good when the shots are falling, whether it’s me or my teammates. We were running through the offense, and I was getting open looks. Like (head coach Allen Edwards) always tells us, ‘If you’re open and on-balance, shoot it with confidence,’ and that’s what we all do. It’s just a great feeling when it’s falling.”
Dalton made five of his first seven 3-point attempts and posted the 13th double-double of his career with 13 rebounds.
“I think at the end of the day, Hayden’s playing with extreme confidence, and you like that as a coach,” Edwards said. “And no different than what I was telling our guys earlier is I think he’s playing with that confidence because he puts in work outside of what we do as a team. So with him going out and it being his senior year, and him feeling like he’s one of the better players in our league, (he’s) more than capable.
“But what I always challenge him about is on the other end of the floor, when it’s not falling. Or taking care of the basketball. I got on him and Lou (Adams) at halftime. H. had four (turnovers), Lou had three, and I thought he did a much better job playing under control and leaving the second half without a turnover. But he has a special gift to play on that end of the floor because of his skill set, his ability to shoot the basketball and to play inside or out.”
Said Dalton: “I guess I’m more confident, just because the work that I and everybody on the team has put in. I’m confident when everybody’s shooting it, as long as they’re open and we move the ball and made a good play on offense. I’m confident in myself and everybody on the team.”
James averaged a team-leading 16.0 points per game last season for Wyoming, while Dalton averaged 12.2. Wyoming was also without senior guard Alexander Aka Gorski (ankle), sophomore center Andrew Moemeka (concussion) and freshman Anthony Mack (concussion). Freshman Hunter Maldonado started but left the game with cramps later. He is the first Wyoming true freshman to start a season opener since Brandon Ewing in 2005.
“Honestly, I don’t think it was that tough (not having James healthy),” senior forward Alan Herndon said. “With this team, we just honestly have a lot of depth. No matter, one through 15 — well, now we might not have as many guys, but we always preach we have another guy that can step up and fill that role, play that position and come out and play just as hard. Whether it’s practice or in game, the next guy has to step up, and we have to play great.”
Edwards said Aka Gorski likely would not be able to play in Wyoming’s game Monday at Oregon State, and Mack would not make the trip.