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UW vs Niagara

Wyoming's Hunter Maldonado brings the ball down the court during the Cowboys' game against Niagara on Nov. 16 at the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie.

LARAMIE — Wyoming doesn’t have to wonder if Hunter Maldonado will be able to play for a while.

Maldonado will miss four to six weeks after taking a hard fall in the Cowboys’ 90-87 overtime loss to Denver on Dec. 11 that led to him eventually being taken off the Arena-Auditorium court in a wheelchair. Wyoming coach Allen Edwards said the Cowboys’ second-leading scorer and rebounder landed directly on his sciatic nerve — an unrelated injury to the back spasms Maldonado has dealt with all season.

Edwards said Maldonado is still using crutches to get around and won’t travel with the team to El Paso, Texas, where Wyoming (3-7) will open the Sun Bowl Invitational against East Tennessee State (8-4) on Friday at 5 p.m.

“He’s a tough kid and wants to play obviously, but at the end of the day, you still have to consider health,” Edwards said. “Just want him to get back to 100 percent.”

Maldonado’s back spasms were so severe earlier this season that he missed Wyoming’s opener in the Fort Myers Tip-Off against Boston College on Nov. 19 before being held out of the Cowboys’ game at Evansville the following week. His current timetable wouldn’t have him returning until mid-January at the earliest when Wyoming is in the heart of its Mountain West schedule. However, between the spasms and the nerve injury, Edwards said he’s not counting out the possibility of Maldonado, a true sophomore, taking a medical redshirt.

To be eligible for a medical redshirt, a player must sustain a season-ending injury in the first half of the season without having played in more than 30 percent of the full season, according to athleticscholarships.net. Should Maldonado not play again this season, he would’ve played in just 26 percent of the Cowboys’ 31 regular-season games.

“When Maldo comes back within that four to six weeks or whatever it takes, I think that has to be a discussion for he, myself and his parents about where his body is at and how he’s feeling,” Edwards said. “My thing with him was health at the end of the day. What I wouldn’t want is kind of what we went through the first 10 games: Are you playing today or are you not?”

It’s another blow to a roster that’s been nicked up all season. Four players in the Cowboys’ rotation have missed multiple games because of injury, including sophomore forward Austin Mueller, who’s also a medical redshirt candidate after tearing his ACL on Dec. 4.

Naughton set to return

Jordan Naughton is in line to make his regular-season debut Friday.

Naughton will return in a “limited role” against ETSU, Allen said. The plan is to gradually work Naughton back into the rotation by getting the senior forward about 10 minutes a game. Naughton missed the first 10 games with a partially torn LCL.

The 6-foot-10, 234-pounder, who had 10 points in just eight minutes in Wyoming’s exhibition game back on Nov. 1, also missed all but nine games last season with a back injury and underwent a rhizotomy procedure during the preseason.

Without a Trace

The only available option who has yet to play this season is true freshman Trace Young, and Edwards said the plan is to keep it that way.

Even with the Cowboys’ attrition, Edwards said he’s happy with the eight-man rotation he’s got with Naughton back in the fold. Edwards said he likes the long-term potential of the 6-9, 189-pound Young, but the situation isn’t so dire that he needs to pull his redshirt.

“To me right now, it would just be an extra body,” Edwards said. “I don’t know if we’re doing him a service if we do it to him.”

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

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