There’s been a lot of firsts for Wyoming men’s basketball this season.
A first-year coach.
First-year players, and others with bigger roles.
Five UW players will go through another first Wednesday when the No. 7 seed Cowboys (18-13) play No. 10 Air Force (11-20) at 2:30 p.m. MT in a first-round game. They will play in their first-ever MW Tournament game.
Two in particular are sophomore guard Justin James and junior forward Hayden Dalton. Both were on the team last year, but were suspended prior to the tournament after being cited by Laramie police for drug use. James and Dalton are UW’s two leading scorers at 15.5 and 12.5 points per game, respectively.
“It hurt knowing I couldn’t be out there helping my team in some way. This year I’m ready to play,” James said.
Needless to say, UW needs both players to have good games Wednesday, but perhaps the biggest area is ball security. James and Dalton lead UW in turnovers. Between both, they average about five turnovers per game, and many of them are careless turnovers that can easily be avoided.
After Wyoming’s 78-73 home loss to Colorado State Tuesday, first-year coach Allen Edwards said at some point his players must get what he and his staff are telling them and go out and do it.
For those of you who missed it, here is Edwards’ complete postgame comments:
To me, there seems to be a communication problem between the coaching staff and the players, which led me to write column which ran Thursday in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle and Laramie Boomerang and online at wyosports.net. Here’s the link: http://bit.ly/2kPmH9h
Wyoming sophomore guard Justin James, at 6-foot-7, is the Cowboys’ leading scorer this season at 15.3 points per game. All of those points have been off the bench, but James is among the team leaders in minutes at 24.2 per game.
James often is the Cowboys’ point guard, and of all the players on the team, has the ball in his hands more often than not. A by-product of that is turnovers. His 55 are second-most on the team.
The Port St. Lucie, Florida, product is coming off back-to-back 20-point games, including a game-high 26-point effort in the Cowboys’ 83-74 road win at Air Force last Saturday. James also had a career-high seven assists in that game.
The only other time this season James had consecutive 20-point games was back in late November when he had a career-high 28 at California, and 21 at home against Denver. In those games, James had a combined three turnovers. Against Air Force and the previous game against Boise State, he had nine.
“We’ve been harping on it,” said first-year UW coach Allen Edwards on the turnovers by James this season. “The thing with Justin is he’ll continue to get better. Sometimes he tries to rely on talent, and that’s where he gets into trouble. Sometimes it may not be the ultimate respect for guy guarding him.”
The season has been an up-and-down one for Wyoming men’s basketball so far with a 7-8 overall record.
Same can be said for the Cowboys’ young post players — sophomores Jonathan Barnes and Hayden Dalton and true freshman Jordan Naughton. Dalton and Naughton are in their first years at UW. Barnes is in his second.
I’m not including sophomore Alan Herndon here, even though this is just his second year in terms of playing for the Cowboys and third year in the program. He, too, has had is ups and downs, but for now we will consider him the veteran.
Coach Larry Shyatt knew the youth and inexperience in the post would be “challenging” this season.
“Watching their development has been outstanding for us in practice,” he said. “In games it’s been a different guy on a different night stepping up or struggling. Nothing has been a surprise, but what need to do is develop a little more consistency.”
The 6-foot-8 Dalton averages 4.8 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. He’s pulled down five or more rebounds in six of UW’s 15 games, but at 185 pounds it is evident that Dalton struggles against bulkier guys inside. That was evident in last Saturday’s 71-68 loss at Nevada where Dalton was 0 of 5 from the field, with many of those misses inside.
I don’t think anyone felt good about Wyoming’s 77-69 overtime loss to Division II Fort Lewis last Saturday.
Yes, it was an exhibition game. Even though the Cowboys’ three best players — senior guard Josh Adams, junior guard Jason McManamen and sophomore forward Alan Herndon — didn’t play the last 15 minutes or so based on the decision coach Larry Shyatt made earlier in the week, there was a level of disappointment.
Talking to the players this week, they seem determined that won’t happen Friday when the Cowboys open the regular season against Bristol University out of Anaheim, California.
“Increased focus,” said Herndon on what practice has been like so far this week. “Coaches have been more on edge. We know we have to prepare a lot better. We know we have to prepare and respect every single team we play no mater what their name is.”
Added McManamen: “It was tough. You don’t want to lose any game no mater who you’re playing. We have to learn from it. It will make us hungrier for this game Friday. We’re going to be ready.”