LARAMIE -- Jeff Linder's first Christmas in Wyoming was pretty standard.

He chased around his four children, spent quality time with his wife and laid low for a few days. There was also this Tweet below. You don't see this in your backyard at too many coaching stops around the nation.

The Cowboys' first-year head coach was afforded a few off days because he gave the same courtesy to his players. In normal years, that's not a weird concept.

As you know, this isn't a normal year.

So, instead of a ski trip to Steamboat or a getaway with the family, Linder watched deer brawl in the snow out his back window.

"Just like players, we can't tell them to stay at home and not do anything and I'm out running wild," Linder said.

Kenny Foster and Kwane Marble have been on campus in Laramie since last April. Hunter Thompson and Hunter Maldonado came the following month. Aside from game trips to Corvallis, Ore., and Orem, Utah, they haven't left, either.  

It was time.

"I could see they were getting a little tired and down," Linder said of the last two games against Utah Valley and Omaha, singling out freshmen like Marcus Williams, Jeremiah Oden and Xavier DuSell.

That, Linder said last week, outweighed the risk of sending players home to see their families in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic. The fact that only a few of those players had to board an airplane also made Linder feel confident he made the right decision.

The team was headed to yet another coronavirus test after Linder's Wednesday morning press conference. So far, so good, Linder said about post-Christmas results.

"Those guys did a good job, same with parents, knowing the circumstances, as well," he said. "It was not time to go home and hang out with friends. We made a point of that ... It's hard to say no. Under the current situation and circumstances, they've been doing this since July. That's daily for the last six months. It's been hard.

"... It takes a toll behind the scenes from a mental standpoint."

The 6-1 Cowboys will play their first Mountain West games of the season on the road at Fresno State, beginning Saturday at 5 p.m. MST. The Pokes and Bulldogs will meet again Monday in California as part of the league's new two-game series model.

Linder said his team will "go live" today for the first time since the holiday break. That means playing 5-on-5 and game situations. The first few days back were reserved for conditioning. Linder said his guys did a good job of staying in shape.

Another task that is easier said than done.

Does he see the benefits of a mental break yet?

"Yeah, I definitely see that they are re-energized, especially the younger guys," he said. "... They're definitely moving better than they were the week before we gave them some time off."

This rested group is also receiving a boost this week with the addition of freshman walk-on Terrin Dickey, a 6-foot, 7-inch, 185-pound forward from Albuquerque. Graham Ike, a 6-foot, 9-inch freshman that tips the scales at 245 pounds, is also expected to be cleared by doctors and make his debut in late January. Ike is still recovering from an ACL tear.

Until at least mid-March, basketball is the focus for this young group.

Tonight, Wyoming's next opponent is playing a few miles down the road inside an empty Moby Arena in Fort Collins.

No, Linder has not thought about putting on a disguise and trying to attend for scouting purposes.

Thanks, COVID.

"There's nobody there," Linder joked. "If I went Bobby Valentine and throw on a mustache and sunglasses, I'd get spotted out pretty quickly." 

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