LARAMIE -- There was just 2:29 left in overtime and the Cowboys were clinging to a four-point lead.

It was amazing this game even got to this point. We'll get to that in a minute.

Hunter Maldonado, who was down on the block -- like he was a majority of the night -- attempted to spin and force up a shot. The ball bounced off the rim and slowly started to make its way down to the masses inside the paint.

It didn't make it that far.

Instead, a guy wearing a white No. 22 jersey soared through those bodies down low and snagged the rebound, his toes ever-so close to the end line. As his momentum started to pull him out of bounds, he made a spilt-second decision, firing a dart into the chest of a wide-open Hunter Thompson.

The defense closed fast.

The rebounder, by now, made his way to the corner and was all alone. The ball was headed back his way.


That man was Kenny Foster.

Wyoming's sophomore guard has spent the past 14 days twiddling his thumbs in quarantine. Bored out of his mind, he was itching to get back in the lineup after watching his team play the first two games shorthanded.

He was cleared Wednesday at 2 p.m.

Just hours later, he was diving for loose balls, playing suffocating defense and making shots on the back of the confidence of his teammates and coaches.

Did he even want to play after that long layoff and no practice? New head coach Jeff Linder actually posed the question.

It was laughable.

"Yeah, I was so happy -- so ecstatic," Foster said after the Cowboys somehow pulled off a 94-83 victory over Incarnate Word in overtime. "The only thing in my mind when I got that news -- when am I allowed to step on that court?"

Foster came to Laramie last year with high expectations. He did that to himself. After all, he was the Colorado High School Gatorade Player of the Year.

He shot just 34.2 percent from the field during his freshman season at UW, just 24.4 percent from beyond the arc. He averaged a meager 4.8 points per game. Most nights, he was a non-factor.

Linder tried to recruit Foster to Northern Colorado. He knew the type of player he could have when he accepted the job here last March. That's why one of Linder's first recruiting visits was south down Interstate-25 to Aurora, Colo.

The only real question was: Can he still play like the guy he recruited or is Foster just another guy that was a star in high school?

Linder knew the answer. We all got to see the proof Wednesday night.

"He might not ever practice again. We might just leave him in quarantine," Linder joked after Foster's 21-point night, a career best. "... Seeing how he shoots the ball in our workouts, he's the best shooter we have. No more (seasons like last year), he's too good of a shooter. I tell him, if you get an open look and you don't shoot, you're coming out.

"There's a reason why he got recruited here by the former staff. To see him grow in that way, I'm really proud of him."

Foster flashed during the Mountain West Tournament last March in Las Vegas. He scored 18 points in a semifinals matchup with eventual league champion, Utah State. Confidently, he went 4-for-7 from deep that night inside the Thomas & Mack Center.

Wednesday, no one knew what to expect.

Maldonado disagrees. And remember, he had a front-row seat to what Linder would refer to as a "winning play" in overtime.

"I saw him come flying in and my immediate thought was, 'please don't step out, please don't step out," said Maldonado, who finished with 14 points and a team-high eight assists. "He kicked to Thompson and I was telling him to wing that right back to Kenny. He shot it and I thought, 'yeah, that's going in.' I've seen him hit a ton of those in practice. We have all the confidence in him."

Foster netted eight of the Pokes' 16 points in the extra frame. He hit a huge three late in regulation to pull the home team to within one. Foster was 6-for-8 from the field and a perfect 3-for-3 from three. He also hit 6-of-7 free throws, a task Wednesday night that didn't come easy for a majority of the Cowboys' lineup.

What does it all mean?

A confident Kenny Foster is a scary Kenny Foster.

So is a wide-open one.

"It's hard stepping into a high level with such high expectations," Linder said. "He's such a good kid. I knew he was a good kid, but he has just been a joy to be around. I hope he just builds off this."


Pressing their luck

Wyoming hasn't had a chance to practice 5-on-5 let alone work on a full-court press.

Sure, they do some semblance of a trap in practice, but who knew they would master it by game No. 3?

That's exactly what happened Wednesday night.

Trailing by 11 with just 5:33 left on the game clock, the Cowboys' defense hung around on the Cardinals' side of the floor. Within seconds, they had a guy trapped. Moments later, turnover.

It's just like Linder drew it up.

"There's easier ways to make a living," he joked. "I'm really proud of the effort and the response."

That wasn't the last time the Pokes would steal a pass and turn it into points.

Two possessions later, Bradley Akhile, the Gillette College transfer, would hand the ball back to the home team. Marcus Williams picked his pocket. Xavier DuSell hammered home a dunk to inch even closer.

Josh Morgan was the next Cardinal to dish a free handout. This time it was Thompson making him pay. Wyoming managed to force six turnovers in that final 5:33.

"Guys did a good job speeding them up," Maldonado said. "I don't think they we're expecting it." 

What did that get them? Overtime.

With 0:07 left, Drew Lutz hit a clutch three to send this one to extras.

The fact it got to that point was a miracle in itself.

Linder said Incarnate Word threw different defenses on the floor all night long. That, coupled with the Pokes' new lineup with the additions of Foster and Kwane Marble, and a 51.6 percent shooting night from the visitors, made the hill seem unsurmountable at times.

Every time Wyoming went on a mini run, UIW would seem to answer -- and then some.

"We kept fighting," Linder said. "The press at end sped them up and changed the momentum. Then we made one winning play after another."


Challenge accepted

Assistant coach Sundance Wicks sat Marcus Williams down Tuesday and showed him some film. It wasn't of the Cowboys blowing a 19-point lead to Texas Southern the night prior, either.

They already went over that one.

This was Michigan State vs. Duke. The big boys. Two power programs that know what it takes to cut down nets.

Wicks wanted to point one thing out to the true freshman point guard -- how to really play defense.

There's no grabbing shorts. There's no let up. It's a 40-minute job.

"Your intent and your intensity, you can see in your stance whether or not you're ready to go," Linder said.

This was a way to challenge the youngster from Texas, who through three games has seemed to do most everything right.

Most everything.

"Marcus got challenged and he was ready to go," Linder said. "He did an unbelievable job. He had some tremendous plays on the defensive end ... I'm proud that he responded the right way. That's what winning looks like."

Williams, who was averaging 18 points per outing through his first two collegiate games, netted 20 in the victory over Incarnate Word. He had three steals to go along with six assists and five rebounds.

Imagine if that kid adds shutdown defense to his resume, too?

Look out.

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