It isn’t like a bye week in football, but the time between games for the University of Wyoming men’s basketball team is a welcome one.
The Cowboys (3-6) had lost four of their five most recent games over the last two weeks, but had one of their better efforts of the season in a 73-64 victory over South Carolina on Wednesday at the Arena-Auditorium. UW’s next game is at 7 p.m. Tuesday at home against Denver (2-7).
“It is good to win, having this time between games,” third-year UW coach Allen Edwards said. “Our high-minute guys, we’ve got to give them some rest. But the guys not playing as much, they still have to work out.
“This was just one victory. It is not five. We still have to have the right mentality coming into practice to continue to get better. I appreciate the way we’ve approached practice, given our start. I’m happy, but it is a long season, and we still have work to do.”
One player who should benefit from the time between games is sophomore guard Hunter Maldonado, who has dealt with back spasms all season. Maldonado has been limited in practice and missed two games.
Maldonado received a shot in his lower back a few days ago, and said he felt good entering the South Carolina game. In 37 minutes, Maldonado had nine points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals.
After the Denver game, UW has 10 days before its next game, when it plays at the Sun Bowl Invitational in El Paso, Texas, Dec. 21-22.
“Those days between games will definitely help me get back to 100 percent,” said Maldonado, who is second on the team with 14.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.
“The shot I got a few days ago has made a huge difference. I should be fine. Even though we have some time between games, we have to get back to work and go hard on the court.”
Win one for Mueller
Sophomore forward Austin Mueller tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Tuesday in practice and is out for the rest of the season.
The 6-foot-6 Mueller has been described as “the glue guy” by Edwards for his hustle and want-to.
Prior to the game, first-year UW strength and conditioning coach Marcus Edwards (no relation to Allen Edwards) told the team to win the South Carolina game for Mueller.
“With all the injuries we’ve had, this is the last thing we needed, but you saw the fight and will in this team to get that win for him,” senior guard Justin James said.
With Mueller out and senior post Jordan Naughton (knee) out until early January at best, a pair of true freshmen – 6-6 wing T.J. Taylor and 6-8 forward Brandon Porter – could see more minutes.
Taylor has played in every game this season, including four starts, and averages 7.0 points, 3.6 rebounds and 19.3 minutes per game. He had 11 points and four rebounds in 29 minutes off the bench against South Carolina.
“I think he’s making strides,” Edwards said of Taylor. “He didn’t really have a good summer, more so due to his conditioning, but when he came back (prior to the fall semester), he was in shape.
“We felt as a staff we could put him out there with four returning guys and he wouldn’t hurt us. He has the ability to score, although he needs to work on his free throws (60.7 percent). The thing I yell at him about is he is a quiet kid, and he needs to be more vocal and assertive in talking on defense.”
Porter averages 2.4 points, 1.3 rebounds and 5.1 minutes per game. He fouled out in the first half against South Carolina, and Edwards said Porter was the “sacrificial lamb” in terms of fouls with redshirt freshman forward Hunter Thompson in first-half foul trouble.
The right number
The South Carolina game was UW’s best defensive effort this season. The Cowboys recorded season-lows in points allowed, shooting percentage (33.3) and 3-point shooting percentage (15).
Edwards said his staff describes getting three consecutive defensive stops as “kills,” and added UW had eight of those in the second half as it held South Carolina to 27 points.
“Sixty-four points is a good number for us,” Edwards said. “When we get into the high 70s and 80s, that isn’t good.”
South Carolina coach Frank Martin coached Edwards as a youth and at the junior-varsity level in high school in Miami. He told WyoSports this week he considers Edwards “like a son.”
Martin and Edwards spoke at a function Tuesday night in Laramie, and after the game, Martin didn’t like some of the things he heard from UW fans about Edwards.
“There’s been negative connotations about how the team is struggling,” he said. “(Edwards) gave you two 20-win seasons in his first two years. He’s got a brand new team this year. Those kids are fighting their tails off. They’ve had a chance to win every game they’ve played. He’s kept those kids together. I’m disappointed in the kind of questions and the kind of comments I heard from Wyoming folks of their team right now.
“Allen Edwards is a winner. He’s an unbelievable leader of young people, and that’s why they won (Wednesday), because of his character and who he is. He doesn’t come up with excuses.”
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.