LARAMIE — Allen Edwards didn’t want to lump them all together.
Discussing Wyoming’s lopsided losses since Mountain West play began, the Cowboys’ coach pointed out that not all of them were created equal. The Cowboys got within single digits of Boise State in their league opener Jan. 2, got within one possession in the second half against Utah State on Jan. 12 and even led early in the second half at UNLV on Jan. 5, but the environments at San Diego State and New Mexico were too much for Wyoming’s young, depleted rotation to handle in 30-point drubbings.
“I just thought those two were outliers in the sense of atmosphere and young guys playing on the road,” Edwards said. “Thought that was different than all of that (other three), but my thing to our guys is all we can can control is coming to work every day and compete.”
Putting 40 competitive minutes together has been a struggle for Wyoming (4-14, 0-5 MW), which has lost five straight and eight of nine heading into Wednesday’s game at the Arena-Auditorium against San Jose State — the only team below the Cowboys in the MW standings. The Cowboys haven’t lost during their skid by fewer than 12 points.
Since losing a six-point lead early in the second half of that 68-56 loss to UNLV, Wyoming has lost by an average of 25.3 points. The Cowboys’ average margin of defeat in league play isn’t much better at 20.4 points, but there’s still belief on Edwards’ part that his seven-man rotation is capable of putting up better fights going forward.
“This group, they don’t have a defeatist mentality, a wounded or a woe-is-me type of mentality,” he said. “I believe just from preparation and watching them, they believe in every game, if we do what we’re supposed to do, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”
The Cowboys had another injury scare Saturday in their 83-53 loss at New Mexico when senior guard Justin James was helped off the Dreamstyle Arena court late in the second half after colliding with a New Mexico player. But James said Tuesday it’s just a deep shin bruise that he’s been getting treatment for daily, and the MW’s leading scorer should be able to play against the Spartans (3-14, 0-5).
Even with James, there are certain areas that need to drastically improve for a team with a microscopic margin for error.
Start with energy and effort on defense, both of which have been harped on ad nauseam by Edwards with the five members of the rotation going through their first season of Division I basketball. Whether in their 2-3 zone or man, the Cowboys, who are yielding the fourth-most points in the MW (76.6 per game), are allowing teams to shoot nearly 46 percent from the floor in league games.
“If you gave them a quiz, they would answer the question correctly,” Edwards said. “I think when you bring in the decision to make it in a split-second or fatigue comes in to play, I think they don’t make the right decision. … It’s not like they’re doing it intentionally. They’re not sitting up there saying, ‘Coach, I’m just doing it intentionally.’ They’re trying to figure out the speed of the game as well.”
Said James, “That’s the main thing for us is continuing to have an edge or improve on certain things like being more vocal and having more energy on the defensive end.”
Taking the right shots has also been an issue at times for a team that was trained in the offseason to go fast. Edwards would prefer to get out in transition more and push the pace — Wyoming finished his first two years at the helm in the top 20 nationally in adjusted offensive tempo, according to kenpom.com — but the Cowboys can’t play that way with their depleted numbers. Wyoming is almost exclusively operating its offense methodically in the halfcourt, which requires more patience than what the Cowboys have been showing.
That’s if Wyoming is able to hold on to the ball, something that continues to be a problem. The Cowboys coughed it up 18 more times against the Lobos and have committed double-digit turnovers in all but one conference game.
“The shots that we took against New Mexico, we could’ve got in the last 8 seconds (of the shot clock),” Edwards said. “I thought we took them a lot earlier than we needed to.”