‘Border War Games Are Always Going to be a War’
LARAMIE -- It typically takes a little more than three-and-a-half hours to travel from Colorado Springs to Laramie.
Not for this Wyoming team.
Caught up in a mid-January snowstorm, blizzard conditions on Highway 287 sent the Cowboys' bus into a ditch where they sat for four hours.
"We got home at 6:30 in the morning," Jeff Linder said to open his weekly press conference. "So, usually a four-hour bus ride took eight-and-a-half. It's just kind of the way the season has gone to a certain degree."
To make matters even worse, of course, UW was coming off an 82-74 setback at Air Force, a game in which the visitors had a 12-point first-half lead. It was the Cowboys eighth-straight loss and dropped the team to 0-6 in Mountain West play.
There was some good news.
Noah Reynolds led all scorers with 26 points. That's already the sixth time this season the sophomore has eclipsed the 20-point mark. Nate Barnhart netted 11 in his first-career start. The 7-footer from Kansas was a perfect 5-of-5 from the field and pulled down five rebounds. Point guard Ethan Anderson used his speed to blow through the Falcons' defense all night long. The USC transfer capped his night with 14 points and hit five of his eight attempts.
Wyoming shot 55% from the field in the loss.
Now, back to reality.
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Border War rival Colorado State is paying a visit to the Arena-Auditorium Saturday afternoon -- and the Rams are bringing Isaiah Stevens with them. The All-Conference guard has scored in double figures in every game he's suited up in, including a heroic 33-point effort last week against UNLV.
The Texan not only drained a near-half-court shot to send the game into overtime. He drilled the game-winning three in the extra frame, lifting the Rams to an 82-81 victory inside Thomas & Mack Center.
In his seven previous games against the Cowboys, Stevens has scored an even 100 points. That's an average of 14.2 per contest.
Xavier DuSell typically draws this one-on-one matchup. And over the previous four meetings, UW's sophomore has limited Stevens to just 11.7 an outing.
Jeff Linder said it's not quite that simple.
"That's a challenge for all five guys on the floor," UW's third-year head coach said. "I mean, it's not just one guy that's going to stop him. I mean, they put him on a lot of ball screens and do a lot of different things to get the ball in his hands. So, I mean, it's not just one guy, it's going to be a collective effort."
Stevens is CSU's leading scorer this season, averaging 18.6 points a night. The senior is also dishing out nearly seven assists and pulling down 3.4 rebounds.
Again, the Cowboys could be without preseason All-Mountain West selection Hunter Maldonado. The senior missed Tuesday night's game in his hometown and is still listed as day-to-day with a rib injury, according to Linder. Hunter Thompson is in the same boat, still getting over a bout with mononucleosis. Brendan Wenzel, Linder said, won't be back for the foreseeable future. He has a knee injury. Kenny Foster underwent back surgery this week and Linder said his earliest availability could be late February.
And, of course, Graham Ike again will not be in the lineup, dealing with that lingering right lower-leg injury.
"Border War games are always going to be a war," Linder said. "I'm just looking forward to hopefully seeing kind of how we keep moving forward."
You might be wondering, what does a college basketball team do for fun when it is forced to sit on the side of the road for hours on end.
"Well, when it's almost tipped over on its side, I mean, it's hard to really get comfortable," Linder said with a grin. "... You know, at least we had cell-phone service to where we could contact somebody. Granted, there were four semis that had slid off the road that were in front of us. There's only so many wreckers that operate in that neck of the woods."
Kevin McKinney, the program's color commentator, told Linder he has never been stuck on the side of the road in a bus in more than three decades on the job.
"There's been a lot of firsts," Linder quipped.
Can the Cowboys snag their first league win Saturday?
Tipoff is slated for 2 p.m. and the game will be televised on FS1.