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UW MEN’S BASKETBALL

Wyoming's Linder says Cowboys are finally ready to start Mountain West race

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Maldonado lifts Wyoming past South Florida 77-57

South Florida's Russel Tchewa passes the ball between Wyoming'a Graham Ike, left, and Drake Jeffries during their game Dec. 25, 2021, in Honolulu.

LARAMIE – Jeff Linder is confident the Cowboys will be ready to open Mountain West play this weekend.

Wyoming, which has had its first four conference games postponed due to COVID-19 issues, is currently scheduled to play at Utah State at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.

“I know we’ll play Saturday,” Linder said during a Zoom interview with the media on Tuesday. “Not sure who we’ll play.”

The Cowboys (11-2) had to postpone Wednesday’s game against San Diego State at the Arena-Auditorium due to COVID-19 issues within Linder’s program.

The Aztecs – currently leading the MW with a 2-0 conference record — wouldn’t have been able to make the trip anyway after postponing their game this Saturday at New Mexico due to coronavirus-related concerns.

UW’s original MW opener on Jan. 1 was postponed just before tip-off at the Arena-Auditorium due to COVID-19 issues for Boise State. The Pokes also had to postpone games against Fresno State and Nevada.

The rescheduled game against the Wolf Pack is currently set for next Monday in Reno, Nevada.

“The last two weeks have probably been the hardest two weeks that I’ve had since I’ve been on the job,” Linder said. “And I’ve been on the job since day one of COVID and had to go through last year and all that entailed.”

Linder said some of his players had flu-like symptoms, but others who tested positive were asymptomatic.

The Pokes could still be missing some players Saturday, if they are unable to clear protocols this week.

“Hopefully the dark days are behind us and hopefully we’re starting to see some light,” Linder said. “It has been a very challenging last 10 days. As everyone in the country is experiencing, it’s amazing how quickly that omicron (variant) can kind of go through a program. We had not experienced anything like that for the last 18 months. We’ve had very few cases within the program and had never had a game shut down because of us.

“Like everybody else, we’re not immune to it. I thought maybe Laradise was a place where COVID didn’t exist, but obviously it does exist here.”

If any of UW’s four postponed MW games cannot be rescheduled, they will be declared no contests.

The Cowboys, who are scheduled to play San Jose State (Jan. 19) and New Mexico (Jan. 22) at home next week, will play four games between this Saturday through the following Saturday, if the schedule is not interrupted.

“I know they’d much rather have four games in a week than four practices in a week,” Linder said of his team. “It’s not ideal. Right now that’s what we need to do is we need to play games. That’s what we need to do is get as many games in as possible and let the chips fall where they may.”

The Pokes, despite not playing since a 77-57 victory over South Florida on Dec. 25 in Honolulu, were No. 33 in the NET rankings Tuesday. That’s the highest in the MW with San Diego State (40), Colorado State (41) and Boise State (48) also in the top 50 of the metric used by the NCAA Tournament selection committee.

“I’ve pretty much scouted about seven teams who we thought we were going to play, might have played,” Linder said of his impressions of the MW with nine of the 11 teams playing at least one conference game. “It’s hard to say early on.”

San Jose State, the other MW team that had not played a conference game yet, was scheduled to play at Fresno State late Tuesday.

The Cowboys, whether it’s against Utah State or a yet-to-be determined opponent, expect to finally join the race on Saturday.

Follow UW beat writer Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @By_RyanThorburn

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