LARAMIE -- Allen Edwards has always liked his numbers. In his two seasons as Wyoming's head men's basketball coach, Edwards has been comfortable with the depth of players at his disposal.
Despite the departure of two seniors and two transfers before this season, Wyoming looked to be a team capable of employing a large rotation. At one point, Edwards even employed a platoon system, substituting in line changes like a hockey coach.
But when Wyoming fell 78-73 in a disappointing Border War home loss to Colorado State, both Edwards and starting guard Justin James noted after the game one area that needed improvement.
Wyoming scored just seven bench points in the game, its lowest total of the season. In non-conference play, Wyoming averaged 21.5 bench points per game. In Mountain West play, the Cowboys have scored more than 20 bench points just once -- at Nevada, when Lou Adams scored 23 himself.
"My thing is trying to get more guys out there on the floor," Edwards said. "I can’t continue to play (starting forwards Alan) Herndon and (Hayden) Dalton those type of minutes, even J.J., if he was not in foul trouble would have probably played those type of minutes as well.
"So it gave me a great opportunity to challenge the guys that were coming off the bench. Not about getting out there and trying to prove something to me. Rather, more so just getting out there and playing hard and still within the team concept."
One would think that bench support would not be an issue for Wyoming, considering two of its starters, Cody Kelley and Hunter Maldonado, were not expected to start before the season. But the players whose starting spots they have taken, point guard Nyaires Redding and shooting guard Alexander Aka Gorski, respectively, have struggled this season.
Aka Gorski made it a goal before the season to be the best 3-point shooter in the Mountain West, but his 3-point shooting percentage has dropped more than 10 percent to 28.9 percent. The senior has scored in double digits just three times this season, something he did 11 times as a junior.
Redding, a junior who sat out last season after transferring from Washington State, hasn't played 20 or more minutes in a game since Nov. 22, and hasn't had a multi-assist game in conference play.
And role players Buddah Jones, Andrew Moemeka and Austin Mueller have seen their minutes shrink since the beginning of the year, while Jordan Naughton, a starter last season, has missed time to a back injury.
"I had an opportunity to sit down with each and every player over the break over this bye week and talk to them individually," Edwards said. "And my thing at the end of the day is them not getting out on the floor, those are all excuses. To me, you get out there one minute, two minutes, three minutes, your job is just to play hard.
"We’ve had a few guys in reverse roles that did the same thing. Before I started Cody Kelley, he was a guy that was coming in in spurts. Obviously Hunter Maldonado was coming in and out in spurts. And I felt like they were doing fine. So right now I said our mindset to get on the floor was trying to prove something to me to stay out there and that’s not what I was looking for."
Wyoming's midweek bye allowed the Cowboys some more time to prepare for Saturday's game at Utah State after losing consecutive games. A few bench players made a solid impression in that time.
"Well, I thought Buddah did a great job over the week," Edwards said. "Even the coaches joked a few times about a couple of days were some of his best practices. I think Andrew Moemeka was dealing with a little bug but still got out there and practiced with us.
"Ny twisted his ankle the first day we got back out, so he’s kind of been nursing that. Austin Mueller has been doing well also. They’ve stepped up to the challenge. My thing is just finding a way to get them out there early to see what they can give us."
James said that Wyoming's bench players responded to the challenge after the Colorado State loss.
"Ny and Drew I feel like are players who are going to contribute much more to this team in the future," James said. "For us to succeed, we definitely need those two to definitely pick up their game and help us out on the floor."
Edwards said Redding will be a game-time decision Saturday. Naughton will not play.