LARAMIE — Wyoming will go for its first win of the season when the Cowboys hit the road Saturday.
Taking on a Pac-12 opponent won’t be the only challenge when they do.
Wyoming started its season with a loss to UC Santa Barbara on Tuesday, one that left the Cowboys more short-handed than expected for their trip to Corvallis, Oregon. Wyoming faces Oregon State without its top two options in the frontcourt.
Redshirt freshman Hunter Thompson’s collegiate debut lasted just 15 minutes of game time after taking an inadvertent shot to the jaw that ended his night midway through the second half. The Pine Bluffs native finished with 10 points on 4 of 6 shooting. The good news for the Cowboys is Thompson didn’t suffer a break as initially feared by the training staff, but he’s dealing with a concussion that will keep him out of Saturday’s game at the minimum. It comes on the heels of the recent injury to senior forward Jordan Naughton, who will miss at least the first month of the season after partially tearing a knee ligament during Wyoming’s exhibition win on Nov. 1.
“We always have confidence in our team,” said senior guard Justin James, who recorded his eighth career double-double in the loss. “We always have confidence in the guys coming off the bench to do what they need to do. We just wish a quick recovery for the ones that are out, and the next guys got to step up.”
That leaves Austin Mueller, a 6-6 forward, as the most experienced option on Wyoming’s frontline against Oregon State, which has a pair of 7-footers in Gligorije Rakocevic and Kylor Kelley and three players in its regular rotation 6-8 or taller. Junior forward Tres Tinkle, the shortest of the three, led four Oregon State players in double figures with 19 points and pulled down a game-high eight rebounds as the Beavers dominated inside in their 72-59 win over UC Riverside on Tuesday, outscoring the Highlanders 44-18 in the paint.
Next up in the frontcourt for the Cowboys would be junior college transfer Lwal Dung and true freshman Brandon Porter. The 6-9, 190-pound Porter was the only one to see the floor in the opener, checking in for a few possessions late.
Wyoming coach Allen Edwards said Porter and the 6-7 Dung bring “a different aspect to the game” with their mobility and athleticism, but both have strides that need to be made defensively before Edwards is comfortable getting them significant minutes in games.
“They’ve got to show me something that warrants them getting out on the floor in practice and getting prepared for games,” Edwards said.
Edwards may not have a choice with the depth spread thin against Oregon State, which leaned on its advantage inside to shoot 51 percent from the field in its opener. That’s in stark contrast to the approach Wyoming took against UCSB. The Cowboys settled for 29 3-pointers and made just five of them as part of a 36-percent clip from the field.
Wyoming forced 18 turnovers against the Gauchos but scored just 14 points off of those, another indication of the kind of poor shot selection that will need to improve Saturday with a lineup that will be smaller than usual. James (20) and Hunter Maldonado (10) were the only Cowboys to score in double figures against UCSB, with half of James’ points coming from the free-throw line.
James also pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds. Maldonado, a 6-6 guard, was Wyoming’s top rebounder in the exhibition with 10 boards. The Cowboys will have to take another by-committee approach if they’re going to hold their own on the glass against a more imposing Oregon State team.
“That was always the deal,” Edwards said.