LARAMIE -- Wyoming head coach Allen Edwards has been pleading with Hunter Thompson to be tougher in the paint.

Take away space.

Treat that yellow 12x16 rectangle like it's his own.

Be a "jerk."

The 6-foot, 10-inch forward from Pine Bluffs showed glimpses of that new-found toughness Wednesday night in a heartbreaking, last-second 69-67 loss to Utah Valley inside the Arena-Auditorium.

Thompson scored 17 points, added seven rebounds and a block in the Cowboys sixth straight loss.

"Yeah, anytime you coach challenges you to be more physical, you want to prove him wrong," Thompson said in the post-game press conference. "You take it personally."

On his second bucket of the game, Thompson backed his man down, tossed an elbow into him and spun to the rim. He tried that again later in the first half. This time, for once, it was too aggressive. He picked up the offensive foul, but from the look of his head coach, it was all good.

"That was tough," Edwards said of the call. "I thought it was a tough play, but that's the way they called it."

Edwards has said numerous times that the big sophomore is a good kid who wants to do whatever the coach says. That's all fine and dandy, but Edwards has always known he is capable of more.

"He's progressing," Edwards said of Thompson. "He's getting better with time. His inside-outside game is getting there. He's turning his back to the basket and scoring.

"He's turning himself into a really good basketball player."

And if the Cowboys hope to break out of this scoring funk -- and losing skid -- they are going to need a lot more of that grit under the hoop.

Take Utah Valley's head coach for example. Mark Madsen will forever go down as the nerdy white guy who showed off his horrendous dance moves on stage during the Los Angeles Lakers victory parades in 2001 and 2002.

See?

But before he became famous for that, he was known as "Mad Dog" during his time in high school and at Stanford. He didn't get that name due to being a mean guy, the 6-foot, 9-inch forward got it because he got dirty. He is in the all-time Top-10 list in Palo Alto for rebounds and blocks.

He was a first-round pick and had an eight-year NBA career. And it wasn't because he could shoot.

Thompson can.

He dropped a nice hook shot in the lane late in the second half. He tapped in a put-back at the rim. In one sequence, Thompson swatted away a pass headed for the paint, hustling from one side of the floor to the other. On the Pokes next offensive possession, he banged away and gave the Pokes a brief 65-63 lead with 1:19 to go.

Minus the dancing, Thompson could take a page out of Madsen's book. Be brutal down low. Be unforgiving. Be a "jerk."

We saw glimpses.

"Not just on offense, but rebounding," Edwards said of Thompson's improvements of late. "He's starting to understand the scouting report. He's growing in all aspects of his game."

Utah Valley 69, Wyoming 67



Maldo can't carry the Pokes offense every night

In fact, it's been good for the Cowboys when he doesn't have to. I know it's a sample size, but when the redshirt sophomore isn't the Pokes leading scorer, the team is 2-1.

When he is, they are 1-8.

Hunter Maldonado got some rare help Wednesday, mainly from the guy in the missive above, Thompson. Brandon Porter even chipped in with a season-high 12.

However, Maldonado was still the Cowboys leading scorer with 23. Twenty of those points came in the second half.

It was the play Maldonado didn't make that will be remembered in this one.

With less than 10 seconds to go, the guard tossed the ball to the top of the arc and right into the hands of Utah Valley's leading scorer, Isaiah White. The junior raced down the court and laid in the game-winning bucket with 5.5 left on the game clock.

Maldonado tried a last-second desperation heave that came up short.

"The play wasn't open and I didn't want to force anything," he said. "It was a mental error at a critical time ...

"It falls on me."

Back to the offense.

On a night when Jake Hendricks was ice cold -- like 0-for-6-from-the-field-and-zero-points ice cold -- Wyoming needed all the secondary scoring it could get. Hell, even when Hendricks is in a groove the Pokes need more from the role players on this team.

Austin Mueller has been held off the score sheet six times this season. That can't happen. True, Mueller isn't here for his scoring prowess, but he has to bring something on the offensive end of the floor. Wednesday night he finished with four points.

Same goes for Greg Milton, who has scored two or fewer points in six games, and Kwane Marble, who has netter just 10 points in parts of eight games. AJ Banks has gone scoreless three times. Kenny Foster had three in the loss.

And, of course, TJ Taylor. This late in the season he should be doing more things like this:




Instead, he disappears.

Taylor has had offensive outbursts of 22 points, 12 points and 10 on two separate occasions. He's also scored four points or less in seven of the Cowboys 12 games. He finished with two -- in the video above -- against Utah Valley.

Balanced scoring will help the Cowboys stay in plenty of games. It just isn't happening frequently enough.

"We are searching for productivity," Edwards said of the forward spot, pointing to Mueller, Porter, Taylor and Tyler Morman, who played his first minutes of the regular season after suffering a concussion in the Cowboys exhibition game.

Aside from Porter, the other three combined for just six points.



Tough row to hoe

Wyoming enters the final two non-conference games of the season with an overall record of 3-9. Not to mention the 0-2 start to Mountain West Conference play.

What they have ahead is no walk in the park. Not even a little bit.

The Cowboys travel to Magness Arena to take on the Denver Pioneers Saturday afternoon -- a place that has been a house of horrors for even the best Wyoming teams. Then comes a home meeting with the Prairie Wolves.

The who?

Might as well get to know the name, because Nebraska Wesleyan is no joke. The small Methodist college in Lincoln won a Division-III National Championship in 2018. They are 10-1 so far this season.

Factor that in along with the fact there might literally be tens of fans in the stands at the Arena-Auditorium over the holiday break.

Even if Wyoming was playing winning basketball, we would call this a "trap game."

Then comes the real fun -- league play.



That starts with trips to Boise State and Fort Collins. When the Pokes finally return to Laramie, No. 20 and unbeaten San Diego State will be awaiting them.

Unless the Cowboys can find a way to produce consistent offense and play the defense Edwards beg of them on a nightly basis, it could be a long, even colder winter.

"I told the team to continue to work and stay together," Edwards said.

"(Tonight) shows we're right there in a position to win," Maldonado added. "I didn't execute."

Maybe the Cowboys were "right there" with Utah Valley.

The Pioneers, Broncos, Rams, Aztecs, and even the Prairie Wolves, are not now 4-8, Utah Valley.