LARAMIE – If it’s not one thing, it’s another in the ever-changing personnel picture for the University of Wyoming men’s basketball team.
Third-year coach Allen Edwards said Friday junior guard Jake Hendricks and true freshman guard Tariq Johnson will miss today’s nonconference finale against NCAA Division II Dixie State.
Hendricks injured his right knee during the second half of the Cowboys’ 76-65 loss at Texas-El Paso on Dec. 22. Hendricks is still in a brace and on crutches. Edwards said he was told by doctors there didn’t appear to be any bone damage, but he was awaiting results from an MRI that was done late Friday.
Hendricks leads UW (3-9) with 34 3-pointers, averages 11.4 points per game and is second on the team in minutes per game at 34.7 per contest.
Edwards said Johnson has struggled with fatigue and conditioning, and is undergoing tests to figure out what is wrong. Edwards also said there is no time frame for when, or if, Johnson will return this season. Johnson averages 1.4 points and 7.9 minutes per game.
Sophomore guard Hunter Maldonado (back), sophomore forward Austin Mueller (right knee) and senior point guard Nyaires Redding (suspension) also are out. Mueller is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Maldonado is out at least another three to four weeks, and possibly for the rest of the season.
And junior forward Lwal Dung left the team a couple of weeks ago to return to his home country of Australia to pursue a professional basketball career.
UW has seven scholarship players available today. One will make his UW debut, as Edwards will pull the redshirt off of 6-foot-8 true freshman forward Trace Young. Edwards said Young will start against Dixie State. It will be the Cowboys’ 10th different starting lineup in 13 games.
“The question was never talent or if he was ready to play,” Edwards said of Young. “Outside of (junior point guard A.J. Banks and senior guard Justin James), Trace is our next best ball-handler.
“We’re not going to play him 40 minutes, but we will start him and get a feel for him early. He was excited about it. Thursday was probably his best practice of the year. Trace is a competitor.”
UW has lost three consecutive games, four of its last five and seven of its past nine. After the trip to El Paso, Texas, Edwards gave the players a few days off for Christmas. During that time, Edwards and staff thought about what needs to happen for this team to be successful moving forward, and one thing is a change in how the team will play offensively.
Ideally, Edwards wants to push the ball in transition. Now, with limited numbers, it will be more deliberate – similar to the style former coach Larry Shyatt employed from 2011-16.
“We’re going back to old-school Shyatt ball in the sense that we have to be very detailed in what we want to do on offense,” said Edwards, who was an assistant for Shyatt. “We have to get the ball moving side to side. We can’t shoot in the first 10 to 15 seconds of the shot clock unless our defense gives us something to get a breakaway.
“We have to be very calculated.”
That also involves getting UW’s two 6-10 players, senior Jordan Naughton and redshirt freshman Hunter Thompson of Pine Bluffs, more touches inside.
Defensively, UW has played a lot of zone through the first 12 games due to a lack of bodies, and also to keep the players they have out of foul trouble. There will still be zone, but Edwards also said there will be more man-to-man.
“Guys know they’re going to play,” Edwards said. “There’s no being fearful of making mistakes. It is just about going out there, playing hard and letting it all out.”
Banks is coming off his best game at UW with 18 points and three steals in 35 minutes against UTEP. He said he hopes the confidence he gained from that effort carries over today and into the start of Mountain West play next week.
“One of the best things about our team, considering our situation, is keeping a positive attitude moving forward,” Banks said. “We can’t make excuses for things that have happened. We have the same goal in mind, and that’s to win as many games as we can.
“We may have to take a different approach, but the goal hasn’t changed.”
About Dixie State
This will be the Trailblazers’ first game since a 76-59 loss at Saint Martin’s on Dec. 18.
Junior Matt Conway leads Dixie State with 15.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Senior Dub Price averages 9.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per contest. Both are 6-7. Junior guard Jack Pagenkopf averages 8.8 points per game.
This is Dixie State’s first season in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. It was in the Pacific West Conference the previous 11 years, and is that conference’s all-time winningest team with 156 league victories.
Today’s game will be an exhibition game for the Trailblazers. They are 1-7 all-time in exhibition games against Division I opponents. The lone win was 71-70 at UNLV on Nov. 1, 2013.
James leads the nation in free-throw attempts with 119, and is second in made free throws with 90. … This will be the first-ever basketball game between UW and Dixie State. … The Cowboys open MW play at 7 p.m. Wednesday at home against Boise State.
Robert Gagliardi is the WyoSports senior editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-755-3325. Follow him on Twitter at @rpgagliardi.