LARAMIE – When the Cowboys began preparing on Thursday for the weekend visit of Colorado State to the AA, the question was asked of each of the four scholarship players from the region if the Rams had made a scholarship offer to them.
The response was unanimous – from Hunter Thompson to Hunter Maldonado to Austin Mueller to Jake Hendricks – an emphatic no.
And the point was made.
Colorado State didn’t think much of the four, which led it to be pointed out to the rest of the roster, that none of them signed a commitment until the spring of their senior year in high school, which means CSU would have had plenty of time to evaluate them, and none of them had been approached, either.
The education process had begun for the Cowboys on the rivalry between the Rams and the Cowboys, who had only two players on their roster, Justin James and Jordan Naughton, who had ever played against CSU before.
And when test time came, the Cowboys aced it.
“Coach (Jeremy) Shyatt did a good job explaining the hated between the teams, and universities,” said head coach Allen Edwards. “The team understood. They came out with the right energy, the right passion, the right fight.”
James led the way to a 74-66 victory against CSU, scoring a career-high 36 points – hitting five of six three-point attempts and 11 of 12 free throws – while adding in six rebounds, two steals, seven assists, and for good measure, one block.
The Cowboys, however, have come to expect big nights from James.
What was encouraging for them is that in claiming only their second MW victory – the other also coming in Laramie against the Cowboys other Front Range Rival, Air Force – was to see the growing maturity of a youth-laden roster that has been depleted by injuries.
Helped in part by the return of Jake Hendricks for the second game after missing nine games with a knee injury, James is no longer the lone Division I veteran among the regulars.
“We have to keep building on this,” said Hendricks. “We can’t take a step backwards.”
The coming week will have challenges. The Cowboys travel to Logan, Utah to face second-place Utah State on Wednesday, and then, on Saturday night, Mountain West-leading Nevada, the eight-ranked team in the country (23-1) which has a midweek bye before arriving in Laramie.
But at least the injury-riddled Cowboys have some positives to help them look at the future, and they do have Hendricks’ back, which adds a valuable option for a youthful lineup that became James-dependent.
“Great from a maturity standpoint,” freshman Trace Young said of the impact of the return of Hendricks. “To have him on the week takes the pressure off everybody else. It takes attention off J.J. It takes attention off me.”
And in addition to the return of Hendricks from the Cowboys overpopulated list of injured, there is the assimilation of a young roster into life at Division I College basketball.
Edwards did, after all, say a couple of weeks ago, “at some point the freshmen become sophomores,” and it looks like that transition is starting to be made.
“I can feel us getting better as a team,” said Young. “At the beginning of the year we probably don’t close that game (against CSU) out. We had some games where we came out with a lead early and gave it away. I can feel us coming together as a team.”
Now, it is a matter of maintaining the focus of the CSU game, and not get derailed if they run into a scheduling challenged, like facing the top two teams in the Mountain West – Utah State and Nevada – in the next week.
DID YOU KNOW. …
n The Cowboys hold a 135-95 all-time edge on CSU, including 78-37 in Laramie.
n The Cowboys are 36-3 when they have a lead half time during the Allen tenure.
n The Cowboys starting lineup of Jake Hendricks, Justin James, Hunter Thompson, Trace Young and TJ Taylor was the 12th starting lineup of the season, tied with Texas-Arlington for the lead among Division I teams.
n James’ 34 points marked the 42nd double-figure scoring effort of his career, his 20th in 23 games this year.