Linder: COVID-19 has dampened ‘bitterness, hatred’ in Border War
LARAMIE -- You know the ongoing pandemic has seriously messed things up when the Border War doesn't even feel normal.
For first-year Wyoming head coach Jeff Linder, admittedly, the hatred just isn't there despite this being his first crack at the Cowboys' biggest rival, Colorado State.
"Well, I guess it's the Border War, which with COVID-19 it really doesn't feel like as much of a war right now," Linder said Tuesday during his weekly press conference. "I mean, our daily battle, it's war against COVID, not necessarily against the Rams.
"So, hopefully we can get to the game and have an opportunity to play. That's really just the reality right now."
The makings of the rivalry are still very much alive.
Remember, Wyoming did upset Colorado State in the opening round of the Mountain West Tournament last March in Las Vegas.
The Cowboys roster is also littered with players from that state in Kenny Foster, Graham Ike, John Grigsby, Hunter Maldonado and Kwane Marble. Even Linder is from Denver.
On the flipside, CSU erased a 20-plus point halftime lead in Laramie a season ago and danced their way off the floor of the Arena-Auditorium after the 77-70 stunner.
This game has been played 233 times. Wyoming is easily in front, 135-98.
Linder said none of his players are missing this game because of the coronavirus, but the mental is obvious. That certainly doesn't help. Neither do the back-to-back lopsided losses Wyoming (10-7, 4-6) suffered last weekend at San Diego State.
"We're a work in progress," Linder added.
The mood was a tad different 65 miles south of Laramie this afternoon.
And it's not difficult to see why.
Niko Medved's Rams (12-4, 9-3) enter Thursday night's opener winners of seven of their previous 10 games. That includes road wins at San Diego State, Utah State and a home victory over top-ranked Boise State last week in Fort Collins.
"I mean, nothing about this year feels normal," Medved said. "... It's still a rivalry game. I think the players care about it."
Medved, who is in his third year at the helm of the CSU basketball program, was reminded early in this Zoom call Tuesday of that 80-74 season-ending loss in Sin City.
Would that be on his team's mind at all?
"We're focused on it's Wyoming; it's a rivalry game," he said. "They obviously did beat us last year, and to be honest, they outplayed us in two of the three meetings. I think they're a well-coached team. I think they've got talent. They're obviously playing better. Yeah, they got beat by San Diego State, but they just swept Nevada.
"I mean, we know this, we're going to have to go out there and play as well as we have played all season to win Thursday. Then, after that, we'll focus on Saturday."
For Linder's bunch, it's no secret they have to attempt to slow down David Roddy and Isaiah Stevens if they want to have a chance in this one. Linder compared this CSU squad to Air Force -- precise and disciplined -- just with different type of athletes.
However, Linder is having trouble buying into the rivalry with all the issues his young roster has faced this season, including having just eight healthy scholarship players available.
"At the end of the day, man, that's the real war is with ourselves," he said. "I mean, that's the enemy. You can sit there and look at Colorado State and worry about Colorado State, but right now, we're our own worst enemy."
The banter this week definitely belonged to Medved, who tongue-and-cheek said a storm is rolling in this weekend and he hopes his team doesn't get stuck in Laramie Sunday night.
"Could you imagine anything worse?" he joked. "I couldn't."
Roddy received a scholarship offer to play quarterback at UW. He decided to play basketball in Fort Collins instead. How did Medved get that to happen?
"Can I say this publicly? I shouldn't say it," Medved smiled. "I mean, I don't think that was too difficult ... But, I mean, if you had the choice to go play football there or play basketball here ... I mean, come on."
This game, from Linder's point of view, couldn't be more different.
"Basketball wise, I mean, it just doesn't have that same bitterness, or the same hate doesn't kind of exist right now," he said. "... We're in survival mode. We're just trying to get to the game."
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