3 Quick takes: Young Pokes block out noise, put it all together
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., -- Seriously, who saw that one coming?
The Cowboys, fresh off a pair of embarrassing losses to Colorado State and Utah State, went down to Colorado Springs with nothing to lose.
They played like it, too.
Allen Edwards' team put together a solid 40 minutes of basketball in a gutsy 78-72 victory over Air Force inside Clune Arena. When's the last time you uttered those words? Not gutsy, the 40 minute part?
Yes, Wyoming has shown its guts this season. Those mostly came in close losses to UNLV, Nevada and Boise State. Games in which the Cowboys simply couldn't close. We saw guts against Border War rival Colorado State last Saturday for the first 25 minutes, too. That's before the Rams delivered a blow to the gut, overcoming a 19-point deficit in the second half.
Enough of the bad news.
Here's the good.
Not only did the Cowboys win in Colorado Springs, the battled adversity, hit free throws (13-of-16), bailed big shots (50.9 from the field and 39.1 from beyond the arc) and witnessed firsthand the coming-out-party of yet another youngster.
Greg Milton netted a career high 28 points Saturday in the Pokes' third road win of the season. He was 9-for-14 from the field and hit 6-of-8 free throws. He added four rebounds and three assists to go along with just a single turnover.
The sophomore from Elk Grove, Calif., averaged just three points per game heading into this one. His career high was 12 in Wyoming's other conference victory at San Jose State.
So, what gives?
Well, he's getting an opportunity.
Before the last two games, Milton was averaging just under 12 minutes per game. Against the Rams, Aggies and Falcons, he racked up 24.5 to go along with 38 points.
"He's been working outside of punching the clock being with us," Edwards told the television crew post-game. "He's working on his own time."
Edwards said he wasn't surprised by the Milton outburst. He sees it in practice. It just hasn't translated to the real deal.
That changed Saturday.
Something that didn't was the contributions the youth of this squad continues to bring.
Hunter Maldonado, who was playing just minutes from his hometown, scored 19 points and finished with seven rebounds and five assists. He hit a huge three -- confidently, I might add -- with under a minute to go.
You think Maldonado was going to let his team lose this one? No chance.
Despite playing with four fouls, the redshirt sophomore remained aggressive to the very end, including flushing a two-handed dunk in the lane late to figuratively break the Falcons' will.
Kwane Marble, a freshman from Denver, dropped seven points and had five rebounds, and Brandon Porter finished with nine, including going 4-for-4 from the charity stripe.
Check this out: Wyoming's starters scored just 33 points Saturday.
The bench, led by Milton, netted 45. Kenny Foster scored six and Haize Fornstrom added a bucket.
In other words, the kids are finally starting to get it. Seniors AJ Banks and Jake Hendricks accounted for just three points in this one. That was a Hendricks three. Believe it or not, that's not a bad thing. Not when the kids are pitching in, leading and refusing to lose.
The Cowboys have won just seven games this season. This one, by far, was the most impressive. It also gives a glimpse of what could be in the near future.
Games like this give Wyoming fans something they haven't enjoyed in years -- hope.
Resiliency, believe it or not, is a strength for this squad
Last Saturday after that unthinkable loss to CSU, I asked Edwards if it was easier for a young group like this to overcome losses like the one that was just witnessed moments earlier inside the Arena-Auditorium.
In a round about way, the fourth-year head coach agreed. Well, it's showing.
This team could've totally folded up shop. Like, in mid-November.
All week the local radio stations have been filled with questions about Edwards' job and who might be the next coach in Laramie. The program is surrounded in two straight years of negativity -- most of it earned -- yet this group continues to show up and make improvements. As slight as they may seem as the loss column has pilled up.
All these guys did this week, obviously, was put their head down and go to work. No one can ignore the noise. It reached a fever pitch after the home loss to the Rams, but this team has shown they can block that out and move on.
That is a gift.
Imagine you go to work every day, fail -- miserably at times -- and have outsiders questioning why the hell you are even there? Most of us would stay in bed.
Instead, Milton comes out and has a career day, Maldonado showed the leadership skills that have often been overlooked and Porter, Foster, Marble and others, add scoring depth.
Edwards words can often be maddening for fans and media alike. He preaches day in and day out to take care of the ball, rebound and play solid defense. It's not often all of those things happen.
Saturday, it did. It finally worked. All that coach speak we love to hate came to fruition.
Wyoming out-rebounded the Falcons, 32-31. Air Force turned the ball over 16 times. The Cowboys, 15. The home team shot just 21.4 percent from three. The Pokes netted 9-of-23.
The scoring, which Edwards always reiterates, will come.
Saturday, it did.
Imagine with me, would ya?
Let's say Edwards is back next season. Let's say this entire squad is back, too, including the injured 6-foot, 9-inch Tyler Morman and Austin Mueller.
The Pokes, of course, will lose some defense with the graduation of Banks. They will lose a major outside shooting threat in Hendricks as well. But in their place, Edwards adds more size.
Are you confident in this starting five: Maldonado, Marble, Foster, Taylor and Morman? Imagine the bench: Hunter Thompson, Porter, Fornstrom, Mueller, Milton, Javier Turner, new guy, new guy.
Of course, you hope at least one "new guy" can slide into the starting lineup.
That starting five can also be viewed in this light: Junior, sophomore, sophomore, junior and redshirt (most likely) junior.
Does this look like a team that can compete in the Mountain West? Does this look like a 20-win squad?
This is the building-it-the-right-way thing Edwards tells you on a weekly basis. How do you feel about it?
Is it formidable? Absolutely. Will it get back to where you really want to go -- the NCAA Tournament? I'm not going there.
The Cowboys have two regular season games remaining. Tuesday night, Nevada is in town for the home finale. Wyoming travels to Fresno State to close out the regular season and are guaranteed at least one game at the MW tournament in Las Vegas.
What if this team wins two or three of these? What if they look the way they did in Colorado Springs?
Just thought a little devil's advocate could be thrown in the mix on this winning Saturday.