With the Mountain West Conference Championship less than a month away, the Wyoming Cowboys men’s basketball team are fighting their way to the top in hopes of winning the Mountain West Championship once again.
The Cowboys fell to 16-10 overall and 7-6 in the Mountain West after their loss against San Diego State University on Feb 14th. The Cowboys were pre-season picked seventh in the Mountain West and are now sixth in the league with Nevada and Boise State leading the Mountain West standings.
Jeremy Shyatt, one of three assistant coaches for the Cowboys, believes the team has a shot to win the tournament. “From a defensive stand point, when we are really locked in, it’s because we are an older group who’s intelligent,” Shyatt says.
This is Shyatt’s seventh season as one of three assistant coaches on the team. Shyatt helped lead the Cowboys to victory in 2015 to win the Mountain West tournament under the coaching of Larry Shyatt, and in 2017 to win the College Basketball Invitational Championship against Coastal Carolina. “I think we play fast, so if we can utilize our bench and a lot of our key reserves, I think that we can play at a speed that normal teams don’t because they get tired,” Shyatt said.
“We’re constantly reminding our guys of climbing the ladder, climbing the standings, and shooting to win the championship.” Shyatt said. So understanding how important it is to be in a good position going in to the tournament is key. To be in the best position possible, the Cowboys hope to be in the top five, so they will not have to play on the first day of competition.
Cody Kelley, a sophomore on the team, feels that individually and collectively as a team they have improved throughout the season. “We have grown game by game and fixed minor issues along the way.” Kelley says. Kelley may not be the tallest player on the team, but he knows how to play like he is. “We practice long and hard while keeping the intensity level high the whole time,” Kelley says.
“This is a great group. They play for each other and they’re very coachable. One thing that’s great is that they’re older, so a lot of the time with the older guys there isn’t a lot you need to teach them because they’ve been through the works,” Shyatt says.
With only two tournament wins under the Cowboys belt, Shyatt says it is anyone’s game at this point. With only five games left until the championship, the Pokes continue to work hard and prepare to take on the teams in the Mountain West. “It doesn’t matter if we’re up 15 points or down 15 points, we’re going to fight for 40 minutes.” Kelley says.
Hayden Dalton, one of four seniors this season, is averaging 17.9 points a game and has seven double-doubles under his belt. Dalton recently became the 38th player in Cowboy history to pass a 1,000 career points. “I try not to look at the numbers. I want to be able to put my best foot forward before a game,” Dalton says. Justin James and Alan Herndon have also passed the 1,000-point career mark this season as well.
When asked about the feeling of winning the tournament, both Kelley and Dalton felt that it would be the best way to know that all their hard work had paid off. “We put in so much work throughout the season, so it would be a great feeling to win,” Dalton says.
The Cowboys had a six game overtime winning streak earlier in the season. When asked about how they prepare for moments like this, Kelley says they train for those moments in practice, but sometimes there may not always be a happy ending. “I think the way we practice helps us to win those overtime games. We practice long and hard while keeping the intensity level high the whole time,” Kelley says.
With only five games left in the conference season, Kelley believes it can be anyone’s game in Las Vegas. “The good thing about Vegas, is that anyone can beat anyone. It’s not about what everyone has done previously, it’s all about who comes to compete during the Mountain West tournament.” Kelley says.
With less than three weeks until the tournament begins, the Cowboys will keep preparing mentally and physically for the biggest games of the season. The tournament begins March 7th at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, NV.