3 Quick takes: A consistent Hendricks could be difference maker
LARAMIE -- Let me preface this whole article with one word -- exhibition.
Wyoming pulled away midway through the fourth quarter and staved off a Northwest Nazarene comeback, winning this one, 62-56.
Yes, this game meant absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things, but don't tell that to Jake Hendricks.
The senior guard from Smithfield, Utah, was on fire on a frigid Wednesday night in Laramie, hitting his first four shots from the floor, including a pair from beyond the arc. Hendricks finished the night with 23, including a game-high 21 points in the first half in just 29-plus minutes of play.
Hendricks nailed 4-of-5 from three Wednesday, and hit 7-of-9 shots overall. His one black mark -- a team-high four turnovers.
And, boy, did he know it after the game.
"I have to take care of the ball better," Hendricks said during his post-game press conference. "That’s not good, especially with me being a senior. I have to come out and handle the ball a little bit better."
But what about the good part? You know, scoring 24?
"I don't care about that," he said. "It's about turnovers and defense."
As a junior, Hendricks averaged 10.8 points per game and hit 41 percent from three. His best offensive game came against Denver, where he netted a career-high 27 after going 7-of-11 from distance.
He was one of the Cowboys' top offensive weapons in the final three regular season games last spring, averaging 16.3 per contest. He tallied 20 in the Pokes' lone true road win in San Jose.
Everyone in the Mountain West knows Hendricks is a threat from 20-feet, 6-inches, but can he develop a mid-range game? All indications Wednesday point to yes.
Also, refer to line one of this column.
"Outside of the turnovers, I thought he did a great job shooting," Wyoming head coach Allen Edwards said post-game. "That’s what we need him to do ... He does a great job moving without the ball. I do believe our guys understand that piece. When he's out there, how can we get him shots? I thought he capitalized."
It was a great start for the Wyoming guard, but it was also against Northwest Nazarene, a Division-II team from Nampa, Idaho.
If we see this same Hendricks next Tuesday when the Cowboys host Idaho State and get this season going for real, then antennas should rise. Wyoming needs consistency from Hendricks.
He went scoreless twice last last season and finished with six or fewer points nine times. Wyoming was 1-8 in that span. There's a correlation.
Justin James isn't here anymore. He took his 22.1 points per game with him to the NBA. The Cowboys need secondary scoring. If Hendricks can be half as good as he was Wednesday, Edwards might have found his answer to some serious offensive woes.
"I was happy with what he did in the sense of what this team needs him to do," Edwards said of Hendricks. "That has to be something consistent from him."
New year, same issues?
Once again, Wyoming was bested for most of the night in the paint, especially on the offensive glass, 11-6.
Once again, Wyoming turned the ball over way too much. Twenty times to be exact.
Once again, Wyoming gave up too many open looks. Luckily for them, NNU hit just 8-of-39 from three and finished the night shooting 33.3 percent from the field. Imagine of they hit a few more of those?
Once again, Wyoming lived and died with the three-point shot.
Tonight, they lived, netting 8-of-23, including those four from Hendricks. Will that last? The odds aren't in the Cowboys favor.
Edwards said he kept tonight's game plan "vanilla." He admitted that he didn't put his big guys in a position to succeed. Why? Good question.
At times, Wyoming played like a team that can compete. Others, they looked very much like the team that was picked to finish 10th in the 11-team Mountain West Conference.
Here's one glaring example: With an 18-point lead and less than 3:00 remaining in the clock, NNU went to a full-court press defense to try and chip away. All they did was steal the ball four consecutive times and go on a 10-0 run to close the gap to, 61-53.
Wyoming looked in total disarray. They got caught in corners, chucked the ball around and failed to get back on defense.
A.J. Banks, a senior point guard, attempted to shovel a pass ahead -- left-handed -- that got picked off as the Nighthawks made a comeback late. Banks isn't left-handed.
It was truly a comedy of errors.
"My thing with that -- we turned the ball over way too much," Edwards said. "I'm not too caught up in the last couple of minutes because we really haven’t done anything in the sense of press offense. I wasn’t happy at the 47 points they had with 2:30 left, and the turnovers at the end there. I'm OK with that right now, we haven't had enough reps at it. Still, no excuse to have that many in that segment toward the end."
It's early, but these issues have become a common theme on Willett Drive for far too long. Hunter Thompson had his moments. So did 6-foot, 9-inch newcomer, Tyler Mormon (2 points). Greg Milton (5), Austin Mueller (6), TJ Taylor (5) and Kwane Marble (4) showed some driving ability, too.
Mormon left the game with an injury with 6:33 remaining. He was hurt after missing a shot at the rim and attempting the put back. He finished his night two points. Edwards said he heard Mormon had a headache, but that's all he knew after the final whistle.
Kenny Foster, last year's Colorado High School Gatorade Player of the Year, did not play in this one. Edwards said 30 minutes before shoot around he was informed that Foster was in concussion protocol after taking a shot at practice Tuesday.
"If I was to give you the (practice) film, I would tell you to find it," Edwards said about the hit that enabled Foster to play his first game inside the Arena-Auditorium. "He's a tough kid ... My understanding is it shouldn’t be a problem going forward against Idaho State.
"Would I have liked to see him go through this, jersey on, fans in the stands -- I think that part is a small thing, but when you haven’t been through it at this level yet, sometimes it can be a big thing."
Back to the guys that were on the court Wednesday night.
This was not Utah State, San Diego State or Nevada. This is a much smaller, DII school.
We were waiting for Wyoming to dominate in at least one area and show improvement in the concerns listed above. That didn't come against a Nighthawks' squad that wouldn't go away until midway through the second half and then made a late run thanks to the giving nature of the Cowboys.
Wyoming chewed up plenty of shot clock, relied on making a bucket from long distance and no one wearing brown and gold was in sight when it came time to rebound, in most cases.
Edwards said he liked the rebounding in the second half (25-20). He liked the mentality in the paint.
They need to do it for 40 minutes.
This has to change or it could be another long season for Edwards and Co. The Nighthawks eventually went away, the Aggies, Aztecs and Wolf Pack won't. In fact, neither will anyone this side of San Jose, if the Cowboys are lucky.
Exhibitions are played to get a feel and another look on tape against someone in a different jersey. Wyoming accomplished that.
Maybe Idaho State won't get a "vanilla" offensive scheme and the Wyoming bigs can get involved from the jump?
Maldonado is back
Hunter Maldonado hit the backboard on one attempt from three. He air-balled another.
He had some good moments, too. Maldonado finished with a double-double, scoring 11 points and snagging 11 defensive rebounds in 29 minutes of play.
None of that matters -- he's healthy.
"I had some nerves going into it, but as you get out there the first couple of minutes, those all went away," Maldonado said. "I was getting back into rhythm and used to playing in game shape. That's something I'll have to continue working on, but it felt great and I couldn’t be any happier playing with these guys."
Hendricks leaned over to his microphone and quietly said:
"We're happy to have him back."
Wyoming's new unquestioned leader appeared in just eight games last season before a major back injury and lower-leg surgery abruptly ended his season.
Grueling rehab sessions were the new norm. Helplessly sitting on the bench watching his team lose was another. To say last season was a nightmare for the redshirt sophomore would be a gross understatement.
Was he rusty Wednesday night? You bet. Will it last? Doubtful.
Thompson, Maldonado's roommate, told me he is the greatest leader he has ever been around in his life. That's a big statement. Thompson just doubled down, saying each day Maldonado tells him how special of a player he is. He gives him confidence. He also tells him when and where he needs to step up.
"He's an extension of the coach out there," Thompson said. That should only help this young team grow.
Not to mention, Maldonado is pretty darn good.
Maldonado averaged 13.8 points per contest before he was injured. That was a jump from 5.5 per night during his freshman year.
His shot wasn't there against NNU for most of the night, but it will come.
"I thought Maldo settled a little bit with some of the shots he took," Edwards said. "I thought he settled on some of them versus getting to the paint and making plays or getting to the foul line."