MW Player of the Year: Maldonado has entered the chat
LARAMIE -- Drake Jeffries joked after Monday night's 84-78 overtime victory over Colorado State that Hunter Maldonado was lying on the ground outside the locker room, exhausted from what had just transpired.
"Old man Maldo," the junior quipped, flashing a smile.
Can you blame him?
Consider what Maldonado's last 72 hours entailed.
The redshirt junior was fresh off a career night, netting 35 points against the Cowboys' Border War rival in front of more than 7,500-plus inside the Arena-Auditorium. This thriller featured 16 lead changes, 10 ties.
Two days prior, Maldonado scored 31 points in a 63-61 victory over Air Force. With just 7.2 ticks remaining on the game clock, the Colorado Springs product raced the full length of the court and put the ball high off the glass for a buzzer-beating layup to knock off his hometown team.
He got to celebrate that moment with an entire section of friends and family inside Clune Arena.
If you're keeping score at home, Maldonado accounted for 66 points during that two-game sweep of Wyoming's Front Range rivals. For good measure, he added 11 assists, eight rebounds and a pair of steals.
He is the only Division-I player in America to average better than 19 points, 5.5 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game.
Not bad, huh?
Just ask Niko Medved.
"He's a terrific player," Colorado State's head coach said Monday night. "I mean, he's a better passer than he is a scorer, in my opinion. He's a really good player. So, I mean ultimately, you start bringing all the help and he's like a passing station. He's kicking it out and finding shooters like he did at the end of the game."
Imagine what it must be like to scout Maldonado.
It's no secret what he plans to do. First, he's going to slowly bring the ball up court. After surveying the situation, he often gets a better look by backing down typically a much-smaller guard in the post. If the kick out isn't there, be ready for the show.
The 6-foot-7, 203-pound point guard will spin on you. He'll go up and under. He'll hit the tough hook shots.
Good luck stopping it.
Ultimately, he'll break your will.
"We were trying to make him make some tough twos," Medved added. "They weren't making threes and I thought that part was good, but clearly he got going and they ran a couple of actions so that they got the right matchups that they wanted. Again, I thought he made some huge plays."
Joe Scott agrees.
"Obviously seeing a guy like that for the first time and knowing, OK, who is Hunter Maldonado? We're learning those things as we go through this league," Air Force's head coach said. "... Sometimes you have to tip your cap. You have to tip your cap to Maldonado."
Wyoming's unquestioned leader has scored in double figures in 18 of the Cowboys' 19 contests this season. The one time he didn't? He netted nine in a lopsided loss in Tucson against an Arizona team that will no doubt be cutting down nets come March.
The Mountain West is littered with some of the top talent in college basketball: David Roddy, Isaiah Stevens, Bryce Hamilton, Justin Bean, Orlando Robinson, Grant Sherfield and many, many others.
That list also includes a pair of his Wyoming teammates, Graham Ike and Drake Jeffries.
Is it time to enter Maldonado's name into the chat as the league's player of the year?
We'll leave that up to the voters. There are still 11 regular season games remaining, including tonight's much-anticipated rematch with Boise State in Laramie.
Would Maldonado care anyway?
He's about one thing -- winning.
"It's something very special," Maldonado said of knocking off Air Force and CSU. "But again, at the end of the day, we have to go back and learn. I think I still had like eight turnovers, so I have to be able to cut those down."
See what I mean?
For now, we should probably just kick back and enjoy the ride.
"Oh, man, it's unbelievable," he said of watching Maldonado's performance over the last two games. "... He's really put it together. The dude is unreal. I love playing with him. He makes the game so much easier for me and the other guys."
Wyoming (17-3, 6-1) and Boise State ( 17-4, 8-0) are set to tipoff tonight at 7 p.m. inside the Arena-Auditorium. The game will be streamed on the MW Network.
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