LARAMIE — Wyoming has taken advantage of its extended time off. Head coach Allen Edwards said his team will need to do so again after Tuesday night.
But the Cowboys’ current focus is on starting their first winning streak of the season with their longest homestand coming to an end.
Wyoming will return to the Arena-Auditorium on Tuesday against the University of Denver coming off its most notable win of the season. Six days ago, the Cowboys (3-6) took down SEC foe South Carolina for their first high-major conference victory in more than a year — and just their second win in their last six games.
It was Wyoming’s first game without sophomore forward Austin Mueller, whose torn ACL is the latest addition to a laundry list of injuries the Cowboys have dealt with this season. Freshman forward Hunter Thompson has started the last three games since returning from his concussion while the Cowboys are still waiting for the return of fellow big Jordan Naughton (knee), who Edwards said is still on track to be back for Wyoming’s Mountain West opener next month against Boise State.
Treatment has helped Hunter Maldonado make it through the first two games of the Cowboys’ three-game homestand after his back spasms forced the sophomore wing to miss two previous games. To Edwards’ relief, no new injuries have popped up in the last six days.
“Knock on wood,” Edwards said. “We have not, but we have tried to be a little more smart in our attack at practice.”
That’s meant less full contact during practice and none the day before a game. Edwards said Monday’s practice was focused on mental reps and cardiovascular work.
It’s also been a balancing act to keep Maldonado, Jake Hendricks and Justin James engaged while getting them a much-needed blow. James is leading the MW in scoring (24.3 points per game) and minutes (37) while Hendricks and Maldonado are fifth and seventh, respectively, in the league in minutes.
The Cowboys’ top three scorers haven’t done much outside of individual and shooting drills, leaving the rest of Wyoming’s rotation as well as some redshirts to get a bulk of the practice reps. With 10 more days between Tuesday’s game and Wyoming’s opener in the Sun Bowl Invitational on Dec. 21 in El Paso, Texas, Edwards is using the Cowboys’ most extended break in their non-conference schedule as an opportunity to get his team recharged.
“Those guys really needed this break, and they’ll need it after (Tuesday),” he said.
Barring any last-minute setbacks, they’ll all give it a go against Denver (3-7), which has dealt with some injuries of its own during a rough start to its season. The Pioneers have lost four of their last five games, including an 88-72 loss to Northern Colorado — a team that knocked off Wyoming 85-80 on Dec. 1.
But Denver beat Wyoming last season in Denver and has added some talent to its roster. Creighton transfer Ronnie Harrell Jr. leads four Pioneers averaging double figures at 14.4 points per game while shooting better than 41 percent from 3-point range. Point guard Joe Rosga has been even better from deep at 43 percent, which may occasionally force Wyoming out of the zone defense its relied on recently to try to help with fatigue and foul trouble.
“And I think it’s better for us because of our length,” Edwards said. “Especially when Naught gets back, but when you have Thompson and JJ, who’s 6-7, long, and when a shot goes up, he’s done a great job rebounding the basketball for us. I think that defense just fits our personnel right now rather than playing man, but we understand that it does depend who we’re playing against, too, that we’ll have to be able to switch it up.”