Wyoming coach still believes in team
LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — Allen Edwards gets it.
As Wyoming’s coach, Edwards knows as well as anybody how difficult this season has been to stomach. Amid all the attrition back in December, he said it was already teetering on the toughest he’s endured in his 18 years as a college coach given the circumstances.
It hasn’t gotten any better.
Tuesday’s 66-56 loss to UNLV was Wyoming’s 20th this season, putting the Cowboys on pace for the most losses in program history with five regular-season games left. Wyoming’s 1958-59 and 1973-74 teams each lost 22 games. Without more wins than losses down the stretch, Wyoming will have its first single-digit win season since that 1973-74 team won just four games.
Wyoming was picked to finish seventh in the Mountain West in the media’s preseason poll, so it’s safe to say this isn’t the way anybody envisioned this season going. It’s made for plenty of frustration among Edwards, his assistants, his players and fans. Some fans have even mixed in criticism of the job Edwards is doing given the stark difference in the win-loss record after Wyoming put together back-to-back 20-win seasons the previous two seasons.
“I can understand disgruntled,” Edwards said. “I understand that.”
Asked what his message is to fans with Wyoming mired in its worst season in nearly half a century, Edwards said this is the time when a team that’s remained competitive despite the situation needs support the most. No. 7 Nevada overwhelmed Wyoming’s young rotation in an 82-49 rout over the weekend, but the Cowboys were within single digits well into the second half in three of their last four losses.
Wyoming used an 8-0 run to get within a possession of UNLV with 3 minutes, 34 seconds left Tuesday before a handful of late turnovers helped the Runnin’ Rebels pull away.
“You haven’t seen a team that has a woe-is-me attitude or feeling disengaged within what we’re doing,” Edwards told the Casper Star-Tribune. “Whether we’re practicing or playing, the energy is right.”
Fans will support a winner — or at least a team with a higher probability of winning. It’s why Wyoming drew its largest crowd of the season (5,787) at the Arena-Auditorium on Jan. 23 for its 59-46 win over San Jose State, the only team looking up at Wyoming in the Mountain West standings.
But the turnout has largely been consistent despite the opposite result that’s been far more common. The Cowboys, who rank eighth in the Mountain West in attendance, drew 3,432 fans for Tuesday’s game, which isn’t far off from the 3,948 they’ve averaged this season. Wyoming hasn’t drawn fewer than 3,395 fans for a conference game.
“I think this is the time you really rally around a group rather than not coming,” Edwards said. “I think this is the time guys need you for that extra boost, that extra energy. When we’re in there and it gets loud, this can be a very tough place to play. And I thought (Tuesday’s) crowd did a good job. If you put another couple of thousand in there, I think it’s better. And I think the young men on that floor even take their energy to another level as well.”
Most understand Wyoming’s situation. Injuries, Ny Redding’s indefinite suspension and Lwal Dung’s decision to leave the team cost the Cowboys four regulars in their rotation by mid-December, including second-leading scorer and rebounder Hunter Maldonado. The Cowboys were down to seven available scholarship players before Jake Hendricks returned earlier this month from a torn LCL that sidelined him for nine games.
The low numbers have forced Wyoming to slow the pace down considerably on offense in order to conserve energy for a rotation that includes four freshmen. The Cowboys have three newcomers in their starting lineup not counting Pine Bluffs native Hunter Thompson, who’s going through his first season of Division I basketball after redshirting last season.
“They’re going through the midst of the battle,” Edwards said, “and practice can’t simulate what they’re going through.”
There are still plenty of teaching moments with this much inexperience, one of which played out Tuesday. One of those freshmen, Trace Young, started his first 12 games after having his redshirt pulled before the Cowboys’ final non-conference game, but he didn’t start against Nevada and again came off the bench against UNLV with A.J. Banks getting the start in his place.
Young played just two minutes in the first half before Edwards said he noticed a singular demeanor from his 6-foot-9 wing and pulled him permanently.
“It’s got to be about the team,” Edwards said. “I don’t know if not starting him has affected his approach to how we play or how he plays, but I thought early on when I put him in — and I’ve told him in the past — there are some times I feel like you’re not with us. Not disrespectfully not with us, but just engaged not with us.”
Edwards said it’s the kind of decision that’s necessary when navigating this type of season regardless of the emotions that come with it.
“It doesn’t affect how I approach our young men and our game because I believe in all my heart we’re going about this the right way, and I’ve got good kids in our program that continue to come back with the right attitude and come back ready to fight,” he said.
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com