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UW vs. South Carolina

Wyoming's Justin James drives against South Carolina's T.J. Moss during the Cowboys' 73-64 win in Laramie at the Arena-Auditorium on Dec. 5, 2018. 

LARAMIE — Wyoming ended its first month of the season with the most physical game it’s played.

Forty-three fouls were called between the Cowboys and South Carolina on Wednesday at the Arena-Auditorium. Wyoming was able to withstand early foul trouble to Justin James, Hunter Thompson and Brandon Porter against the defensive-minded Gamecocks to notch a 73-64 win — just its second victory in six games.

It also ended a span of nine games in 30 days for the Cowboys, who played their first seven in 14 days. Wyoming (3-6) had a week off following the Fort Myers Tip-Off before traveling to Evansville on Nov. 28, but the Cowboys have already played the first two games of their three-game homestand.

Wyoming is entering its longest stretch of the season between games, which brings with it some welcomed time off. The Cowboys will go six days between games before ending the homestand against the University of Denver on Tuesday. It’ll be another 10 days after that before Wyoming returns to action against East Tennessee State in its opening game of the Sun Bowl Invitational in El Paso, Texas.

“It’s good to win going into six days off,” Wyoming coach Allen Edwards said. “That’s for sure.”

For Edwards and his players, the reason for the anticipated down time is two-fold.

Primarily, it makes for less opportunities to lose another body before the Mountain West portion of the schedule rolls around in January, something that’s been happening seemingly on a weekly basis. The latest blow came Tuesday when sophomore forward Austin Mueller tore his ACL, ending his season.

It leaves freshmen Hunter Thompson and Brandon Porter as the extent of the Cowboys’ depth in the frontcourt until Jordan Naughton (knee) returns for conference play. Throw in Hunter Maldonado, who continues to deal with back spasms, and Wyoming has had four players in its rotation miss all or part of the regular season with injuries. That doesn’t count Lwal Dung, who left the team earlier this week in hopes of getting an early start on a professional career in his native Australia.

A depleted rotation has meant more minutes for those still in it, particularly those doing the heavy lifting. James, who’s averaging a double-double for the season, is leading the MW in scoring (24.3 points per game) and minutes (37). Maldonado (33.3) and Jake Hendricks (34.3), the Cowboys’ second- and third-leading scorers, respectively, are also among the top 6 in the league in minutes played.

The extended break in the action will give Edwards a chance to lighten their workload during practices. Wyoming will get another full week off following the Sun Bowl Invitational before wrapping up its non-conference slate against Dixie State on Dec. 29.

“But the guys that are not playing as much, they’ve still got to work out. There’s a process,” Edwards said. “Sometimes kids don’t understand that and say, ‘Why is he resting when I’ve got to work?’ I always like to say, ‘Hey, I’ve been there, too.’ When I was playing (at Kentucky), Tony Delk and (Evansville coach) Walter McCarty, who we just played against, they had some rest days. I had to work. I don’t feel sympathy. We’re trying to get better. That’s a process for you to get better. And for the other guys, they need the rest.”

As for Maldonado, the sophomore wing has been able to play the last two games after missing Wyoming’s opener in the Fort Myers Tip-Off and the game at Evansville. He said following his nine-point, five-rebound outing against South Carolina he recently got a shot in his back to help treat the recurring pain stemming from a bulging disc and “should be fine” going forward.

A little extra rest won’t hurt.

“Then after (Denver), I think we have another break. I think we’ve got eight or nine days,” Maldonado said. “It’s definitely going to help from the standpoint of getting back to 100 percent with my back and stuff.”

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

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