LARAMIE — Allen Edwards and his players won’t have to get on a plane for another three weeks.
They’re more than OK with that.
Wyoming has rarely been home during the season’s first month. The Cowboys have played less than half their games at the Arena-Auditorium and haven’t played in their own arena since Nov. 16. They’ve racked up plenty of frequent-flyer miles since, splitting a pair of games in Florida at the Fort Myers Tip-Off last week before traveling to Indiana on Wednesday to play Evansville as part of the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge.
But Wyoming (2-5) will start its longest homestand of the season Saturday against Northern Colorado. The Cowboys won’t leave Laramie again until their trip to El Paso, Texas, on Dec. 21 to take on East Tennessee State in its opening game of the Sun Bowl Invitational.
It’s a welcomed break in the travel schedule for a team whose coach believes could use some rest and cohesion.
“It’ll be really good because we’re getting (Justin James) some rest in how we utilize him in these days leading up to games,” Wyoming coach Allen Edwards said on radio following the Cowboys’ 86-78 loss to Evansville. “But also working (Hunter) Thompson in even more and finding ways to keep him on the floor without foul trouble.”
Thompson returned from concussion protocol that kept him out of five games and scored a career-high 15 points against Evansville before fouling out late. The 6-foot-10, 235-pounder also fouled out of the Cowboys’ exhibition and finished with three fouls in 15 minutes in Wyoming’s season opener, a trend that needs to be reversed given Thompson is the only true frontcourt presence the Cowboys have with senior forward Jordan Naughton (knee) still out.
Hunter Maldonado, Wyoming’s second-leading scorer and rebounder, has also missed two of the last three games with recurring back spasms, leaving James with an even bigger load to carry of late.
James is averaging nearly six points more than he did last season when his 19.1 points per game led the Mountain West. The 6-7 senior has taken at least 22 shots in each of the last three games, including a season-high 24 attempts against Evansville on his way to a career-best 34-point, 20-rebound night.
James has averaged 30 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists during that span while rarely getting a blow. He’s playing 37.7 minutes per game — more than anybody in the MW.
Having Maldonado on the floor would help, though how often that will be is anybody’s guess. Two days after Wyoming’s loss to Boston College in Fort Myers, Maldonado returned to score 15 points in 35 minutes in a 68-66 win over Richmond. But a bus ride followed by a two-hour flight from Denver to Evansville earlier this week affected his back to the point he couldn’t go against the Purple Aces.
Three games in two weeks with no travel may be just what the doctor ordered as Maldonado tries to limit the flare-ups. Wyoming, which has lost three of four, will have three days in between Saturday’s game and its Dec. 5 tilt against South Carolina. It’ll be another six days before the University of Denver comes to town Dec. 11.
“I know once I can get that (rest) and we don’t have too many more long trips where it’s taking a ton of time to sit down and move around and stand up in the airport and stuff, I’ll be fine,” Maldonado said. “I’ll get it healed up to 100 percent probably before conference starts (in January).”