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Trace Young vs Dixie State

Wyoming freshman Trace Young goes in for a dunk after coming up with a steal in the Cowboys' victory over Dixie State on Saturday at the Arena-Auditorium.

Wyoming had a memorable end to its non-conference slate, but Allen Edwards and his team would just as soon forget the bulk of their first 13 games.

That’s what the Cowboys plan on doing now that league play is here.

Wyoming will open the Mountain West portion of its schedule Wednesday when Boise State visits the Arena-Auditorium for a 7 p.m. tip. Plagued by the league’s third-worst scoring defense and a rash of injuries, the Cowboys own the league’s second-worst record with just four wins to this point.

“You’ve got your preseason games, you’ve got conference games and then you’ve got tournament time,” Edwards said. “To our guys, this is the start of a new season. Everything kind of resets and goes back to 0-0.”

Wyoming (4-9) needed every second to avoid a fifth home loss its last time out against Division II Dixie State on Saturday, getting a 3-pointer at the buzzer from freshman Trace Young in his first career game to escape with a 65-63 win that snapped a three-game losing streak. Young, whom Edwards originally planned to redshirt this season, was forced to make his debut with Jake Hendricks (knee) and fellow freshman Tariq Johnson (unspecified) both unavailable because of injuries, leaving the Cowboys with just six scholarship players in their rotation before Young’s insertion.

Hendricks, the Cowboys’ third-leading scorer and top 3-point threat, will also miss Wednesday’s game while Johnson still isn’t practicing, Edwards said. With Hunter Maldonado (nerve injury) also out, Wyoming is still without its top two scorers outside of Justin James, whose 22.4 points per game lead the MW.

As bad as it’s been for Wyoming so far, the league outside of No. 6 Nevada hasn’t been much better. Wyoming is one of seven teams in the conference entering league play with a .500 record or worse. Utah State and Fresno State are second and third, respectively, in the league standings with a combined 19-6 record, but they’ve combined for just two top-50 KenPom wins.The MW ranks 15th nationally in conference RPI, according to warrennolan.com. The Southern Conference, the Missouri Valley, the Atlantic 10 and the Ivy League are among those ranked higher.

“If you look at the landscape of the conference, it’s not like we’re blowing it out of the water,” Edwards said. “Right now, everybody is probably happy to be at this point because everybody is 0-0. And I don’t think anybody else right now — maybe Utah State — outside of Nevada is thinking at-large because of our pre-conference schedule, so we have to put ourselves in position to compete or be in the top half and then make a run in the (MW) tournament. I think everybody should be having that kind of a mindset, and we’re no different.”

Boise State (5-8) is one of those sub-.500 teams in the MW. The Broncos, who’ve struggled after losing first-round draft pick Chandler Hutchison and two other senior starters off last year’s NIT team, have lost three of their last four games with two of those coming to Pac-12 foe Oregon.

Boise, which is scoring the second-fewest points in the MW, also has losses to Drake, Illinois State and Idaho State. But the Broncos have a pair of capable double-digit scorers in newcomer R.J. Williams (14.4 points per game) and 3-point specialist Justinian Jessup (12.6), who set a sophomore program record for made 3s a season ago and is making 2.3 3s per game this season.

“I think they’re still trying to find themselves as well, and I think a lot of it is just new faces and not having Hutchison,” Edwards said. “At the same time, when they’re in position to win the basketball game, Jessep probably has something to do with it.”

But the only stats Wyoming’s concerned about are its own, particularly in the win-loss column as the Cowboys hit the reset button on an underwhelming season to this point.

“The one thing I love is our energy to come back and work and not have a woe-is-me attitude,” Edwards said. “Even the guys that are sitting over there injured, they’re just as engaged in practice. But it’s more so a mindset of this is the hand we’ve been dealt and how can we best go forward to put ourselves in position to win basketball games?”

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Follow UW athletics beat writer Davis Potter on Twitter at @DavisEPotter

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