LAS VEGAS, Nev., -- "He is exactly where he needs to be."

That's what Hunter Maldonado said Wednesday night when asked about his head coach, Jeff Linder, who wasn't with his team during an 87-76 quarter-finals loss to New Mexico at the Mountain West Tournament.

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Wyoming's third-year bench boss instead was at a Denver-area hospital, tending to his ailing father, Bruce Linder, who died in the early hours of Thursday morning, the athletic department announced in a release.

“My family and I would like to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers during such a difficult time," Linder said in a prepared statement. "My dad was a great husband, a great father and a great grandfather. We will miss him dearly, but we know now he’s in a better place.”

Linder also missed the Cowboys' Feb. 21 home game against Utah State and has been absent from a number of practices. Linder said his dad wanted him to coach against Colorado State three nights later in Fort Collins.

He did.

During postgame interviews, Linder became emotional when he talked about the relationship he has with his parents.

"That's what he wanted me to do," Linder said of deciding to lead his team that night inside Moby Arena. "I've been blessed. I was blessed with two unbelievable parents who supported me with everything that I did and my dreams. It's only fitting that I be there for them when they need me the most, because they've been there for me from ... everything."

Despite the Cowboys' season-ending loss to the Lobos inside the Thomas and Mack Center Wednesday night, it was clear thoughts were with Wyoming's head man. Even New Mexico head coach Richard Pitino offered his condolences to open his press conference.

"Wanted also to make sure to just say that Coach Linder is in our prayers," he said. "I was able to speak to him before the game and I know he is going through a lot right now, and I can only imagine what he is going through. So, he is a great person and a great family man. We're praying for him here in Lobo basketball."

A teary-eyed Maldonado was asked about loyalty and what it is like to play for Linder.

"I talked to him a little bit, but he needs to be with his dad. He needs to be with his family and be there in a hard time," UW's senior guard said from the postgame podium. We get really caught up in basketball because that's our lives. But at the same time you have to realize the big picture and realize that's his father. At the end of the day, that's way more important.

"That's the guy that helped him grow up. And I, like coach (Sundance Wicks) was saying, empathy, I could never imagine losing my dad yet. For me that's really hard."

Wicks, who stepped in for Linder in Las Vegas, chimed in on the question of Linder not being the "easiest coach to play for."

"Our job as coaches and what makes Coach Linder so phenomenal is that he is going to look deep inside of you and he is going to say, 'I expect you to be great. I want you to do great things. I want you to meet this standard. I want you to meet these expectations,'" he said. "That's what makes a great coach is drawing something out of somebody that they never even thought they had in themselves. That's what makes a great father. That's why coach is where he is right now, with his dad, because when your parents draw things out of you, they help you grow up.

"... That's the type of leader he is. That's the type of leader we need. We need more of that nowadays because that's why these (seniors) stayed. That's why they played. For that guy, for this program, for the brown and gold, and for the people sitting in the locker room right now. That commitment should always be honored."

A grin creased Maldonado's face when he spoke about Linder's demanding style of coaching.

"For those people that say he is not easy to play for, I mean, he is going to keep saying that, but he is easy to play for," he said. "If you are about the right stuff, he is easy to play for. He gets on me when I do something wrong, like every coach should, but that's holding you accountable. If he didn't do that, I don't think I would be any good. I think this generation is a little soft when it comes to that. It's really hard. I think we take it a little personal sometimes, but like I told everybody in the locker room, I think when you take it personal, it's because you're not making your effort personal. You're not going out there and giving it everything you have, and if we can't find a way to get you fired up, you're going to take it personal and we try to get you fired up. For me he was really easy to play for.

"It was really easy to make the decision to stay. It was really easy to make the decision to come back to school for this sixth year. I love him with everything (I have). I know he has my back, and I'll always have his back. But he is one of the best coaches I've ever had. He transformed me into something that I think you guys have been able to see the last two years. (I have) nothing bad to say about him. I love him so much."


Wyoming fans, others react to the death of Bruce Linder:

Casey Pinter (Facebook) Glad you were at his side til the end

Tony Windis (Facebook) God Bless Coach Linder and family!

Jerry Jackson (Facebook) Thoughts and prayers from our home to yours.

Stephanie Hewitt Bowen (Facebook) My condolences to Coach Linder and his family. So glad he could be with his family at this time. Your Cowboy family is here for you.

Patrick Green (Facebook) Deepest sympathy Coach Linder and family. Such a sad sad day. Carry his memories forever.

Barbara Greaves (Facebook) So hard to lose your Dad. Coach, know that all Wyoming fans are thinking about you and your family

Aneilia Snider (Facebook) Prayers for you and all who love him. May he rest in God’s sweet eternal peace.

Fennis Dembo (Facebook) Prayers to his family. BIG SUPPORT FROM YOUR WYOMING COWBOY FAMILY

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