Alex Taylor: Taylor Cowboys need support now more than ever

Jan. 14—LARAMIE — Being blown out by 20 points on the road stings enough.

Being blown out by 20 points in front of 7,000 fans in Logan just adds insult to injury for the injury-riddled University of Wyoming men's basketball team. The 83-63 loss Tuesday dropped the Cowboys to 5-11 overall and 0-4 in the Mountain West, leaving UW as the only team left in the MW without a conference win.

"It's one of the toughest places to play in the country," Linder said after Tuesday's loss. "... They've beaten a lot of teams in the past like they've beaten us. It's one game, but at the same time, too, regardless of all these excuses that we can make—which, we have plenty—but, at some point, we have to be able to draw a line in the sand.

"No one's going to feel sorry for us because we're playing with six guys."

The excuses start and end with a massive injury report, headlined by preseason MW player of the year Graham Ike, who has yet to see the floor this season because of a lower right leg injury. The Cowboys were down to just eight scholarship players against Utah State, and two left the game early with injuries.

On top of Ike's absence, the Cowboys have been without Hunter Thompson (mononucleosis), Kenny Foster (back), Brendan Wenzel (knee) and Noah Reynolds (concussion). Jake Kyman missed the second half against the Aggies on Tuesday because of back spasms, and Xavier DuSell left the game in the final minutes with an ankle injury.

For fans, the Cowboys haven't been a very fun watch this year. UW has started 11 different starting lineups in the first 16 games, which ranks third in the entire country. The lineup changes started with Linder figuring out a winning lineup without Ike, but has now turned into a game of musical chairs out of pure necessity for which players are available on a given night.

Despite the early struggles through both the nonconference and conference season, the players haven't given up on themselves just yet. If the players still believe a deep playoff run is possible, the fans should maintain that belief, too.

"Think about it this way: You work a whole year and a half on certain things, with certain people in certain positions, and you get to the time where you have to actually go out there and go do it, and everything changes," Hunter Maldonado said after last weekend's 80-75 home loss to San Diego State. "We're still growing right now. Obviously, it's tough, but we're making steps in the right direction."

"... I think we're actually, whether it looks like it or not, making a lot of ground in the aspect of getting tougher and doing what we're supposed to do. It's just a matter of if we can hold it for 40 minutes instead of 36."

Linder has stuck by his players' side for most of the season, but he was frustrated with the lack of effort during Tuesday's road loss in Logan. With so few players available on the Cowboys' bench, Linder knows the guys that are healthy are going to need to step up and play more minutes until some others return to the lineup."At some point, as players, you have to draw a line in the sand," Linder said. "I know what I felt, and my coaches, I know what we're doing, but at some point, you have to collectively decide as a team, 'OK, enough is enough.' You've lost six games in a row, and you've lost 10 out of 12. You can sit there and blame whoever you want to blame, but at the end of the day, you're the ones on the floor.

"We've put them in a position to be successful, and it's up to them to go make plays. At some point, it comes down to them actually wanting to be a team and wanting to do it and not having excuses."

An encouraging sign for the depleted Cowboys has been their losing margin in conference play, aside from the Utah State game. UW lost by five to Fresno State, by one to New Mexico and by five to SDSU, and two of those three losses saw the Cowboys leading in the final minutes of the second half.

"Losing's hard," Linder said. "It's a long haul, but we still have two months left. It'd be one thing if you were getting beat by 30 or 40, but we've been right there in some really close games."

For now, the Cowboys' season is far from over. With the uncertainty of Ike's return, UW still has the pieces to put together an above-average February to set the team up for a four-game run through the MW Tournament.

While the consistency has been far from ideal up to this point, the Cowboys could use the same spark at the Arena-Auditorium that Utah State got from its home crowd on Tuesday night. Having a decent crowd for UW's last seven home games could be the spark Linder and his team have been missing over the last two months.

"It's hard," Linder said during a press conference Thursday. "None of us have really gone through the losing that we've gone through. Hopefully, we can get some guys back and hopefully change the course of things. That's all you need. You just need a spark, and we're kind of looking for that."

The Cowboys will host Boise State (13-4, 3-1) at home this weekend. UW and the Broncos will play at 9 p.m. Saturday at the Arena-Auditorium.{/div}

Alex Taylor covers the University of Wyoming for WyoSports. He can be reached at or 269-364-3560. Follow him on Twitter at @alex_m_taylor22.