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University of Wyoming basketball tips off this month. What should fans expect?

The Wyoming Cowboys basketball court at the bottom of a large arena
Will Walkey
/
Wyoming Public Media
The Arena-Auditorium in Laramie is the nation's highest Division I basketball stadium.

College basketball season is upon us, and the two University of Wyoming teams enter the year with vastly different expectations. The Cowgirls are predicted to contend for the Mountain West championship, while the Cowboys are looking to recover from a challenging 2022-23 campaign.

Cowgirls want to build on a record-setting year

Last year was almost perfect for Heather Ezell, who had the most wins in a season for a first-year head coach in program history. Wyoming fell just short of an NCAA tournament birth and conference championship after a narrow loss to UNLV.

This year, the Cowgirls return several key stars, but they also need to replace two experienced players who graduated: Tommi Olson and Quinn Weidemann. During a recent press conference, Coach Ezell said multiple role players will take on those minutes and scoring burdens.

“I think we'll have a few that really own going, ‘Hey, I might not be the leading scorer – you know, on the front page of the paper – but I'm gonna do all the little things. I'm going to do the stuff that we talk about that is Wyoming toughness,”’ she said.

Center Allyson Fertig – originally from Glendo, Wyo. – is already a star in the Mountain West. She was named to the pre-season all-conference team and anchors the Cowgirls on both ends of the floor. She’ll look to build on her stellar sophomore season, where she averaged about 13 points, nine rebounds and two blocks per game.

“There's no doubt that when Allyson plays well, there's a good chance that we're going to win,” Ezell said. “And when Allyson doesn't play well or doesn't score as much, it's a dogfight.”

Wyoming also returns guard McKinley Dickerson, who is originally from Lyman, Wyo. She led the team in scoring two years ago, but missed last season while serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Ecuador. Other players expected to contribute include Emily Mellema, Tess Barnes and Malene Pedersen.

Media members picked the Cowgirls to finish third in the conference behind reigning champion UNLV and cross-state rival Colorado State. Conference play begins against Boise State on December 30.

Cowboys open the season as underdogs 

The Pokes finished last in the Mountain West in 2022-23. Injuries derailed the team’s hopes for a repeat appearance in the NCAA tournament, and several key players left the squad before the season ended.

This year, longtime stars Hunter Maldonado and Hunter Thompson are gone after graduating, and most recent contributors – including talented big man Graham Ike – have transferred to other teams. Wyoming has 11 new players on its roster, and fifth-year guard Kenny Foster has already suffered a season-ending tear to his Achilles’ tendon.

Media members picked the Cowboys to finish 10th in the conference, but the team is embracing having a chip on its shoulder. Brendan Wenzel, the only returning starter from the last few years, said fans should expect a hardworking team.

“We are going to go hard. And we are going to push past expectations,” he said. “I don't think people expect much from us now. And so that's why I'm excited for this season to start.”

Wyoming added six high-school players and five transfers with college experience, including multiple shooters with a history of high-octane scoring.

“We were going to be really hard to guard,” said head coach Jeff Linder. “Now, we’ve got to figure out ways to get some stops in between there. But I'd rather figure out ways to get stops as [opposed] to figuring out ways to try to score the basketball.”

Mountain West conference play begins in early January. San Diego State and Boise State are expected to be the top teams in the conference.

Will Walkey is a contributing journalist and former reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.

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