LARAMIE — The attrition Wyoming has endured this season has been well-documented.
Whether because of decisions to leave (Lwal Dung), suspensions (Ny Redding) or a plethora of injuries, six contributors are either unavailable or no longer on the team. That includes starters and double-figure scorers Hunter Maldonado and Jake Hendricks, whose back and knee injuries could cost them the rest of the season.
Wyoming coach Allen Edwards is fully aware of his team’s predicament. He’s heard so much about it that frankly he’s getting sick of it.
The numbers are so low that he’s added walk-ons KC Kelly and Haize Fornstrom to the roster since the season started, but he’s not using them as the sole excuse for the Cowboys’ 4-13 record. He doesn’t want his players doing that either, particularly when it comes to their struggles getting stops.
“I told my guys whether it’s the injuries or being tired, I’m tired of those excuses,” Edwards said. “I’m tired of people asking me about those. It’s just the way it is. We’ve got to figure it out within that.”
Wyoming is allowing the fourth-most points in the Mountain West at 76.2 points per game, which ranks 249th nationally. The Cowboys, who are winless against their last seven Division I opponents after Saturday’s 71-55 loss to Utah State, are allowing teams to shoot 45 percent from the field, which also ranks in the bottom half of the league.
The Cowboys’ seven-man rotation has stuck primarily with a 2-3 zone not only to try to conserve energy but also to combat their lack of size at times. But Wyoming sprinkled in a good bit of man against Utah State with the Cowboys putting their most athletic defender, A.J. Banks, on Sam Merrill, the MW’s second-leading scorer.
Edwards said he’ll lean on whichever defense he believes will be most successful depending on matchups going forward. Even if that means playing more man starting Saturday at New Mexico, Evans said it shouldn’t necessarily wear down the Cowboys’ limited numbers given his team’s much slower offensive pace.
The Cowboys, who are averaging just 55 points in MW play, rank 118th nationally in adjusted tempo, according to kenpom.com, which is in stark contrast to Edwards’ first two years at the helm when Wyoming was in the top 20 in that category. The Cowboys rarely get out in transition and even eliminate motion in their half-court sets at times in order to give players a blow.
“Now if we were playing this way and we were going up and down, we’re playing man and we’re doing all that stuff while playing with seven bodies, I get it. You’re tired,” Edwards said. “But every time we rebound, walk the ball up, we stop running our motion offense and then JJ is holding the basketball, that’s time to take breaks right there. You’re not moving. You’re resting. But you still have to be able to give it to us for 40 minutes on the defensive end of the floor.”
Wyoming’s switching defenses were effective in the first half against Utah State, limiting the Aggies to just 32 points at the break. But Merrill scored 15 of his 22 points in the second half to get Utah State going, and the Aggies shot 58.3 percent from the floor in the final 20 minutes to finish at 47.4 percent.
It was a breakdown Edwards and his players chalked up to mental lapses that can’t happen regardless of what defense they’re in.
“That’s the focus we need to have finishing out this season is playing 40 minutes of basketball,” senior guard Justin James said. “Not 28, not 18, not 22. Because whenever you do have a mishap, most of these teams in our conference are really good teams, so they’re going to capitalize off our mistakes.”