The heads of Derek Cooke Jr., Nathan Sobey and Josh Adams hung low at a post-game press conference following their 72-66 defeat of Fresno State in the Arena Auditorium on Tuesday night. Their mannerisms and demeanor during the interview not at all resembling the most dangerous team in the Mountain West Conference coming off of its third consecutive win; and for one very obvious reason - the loss of their star junior forward, Larry Nance Jr., to a season-ending ACL tear.
Nance carried the Cowboys through the first half of the game with 15 points, 3 rebounds and 2 blocks going into the break. "Carried" may be an understatement considering Nance went 7-of-9 from the field in the first half, while the rest of his team only shot 3-of-18. Wyoming misfired on all six 3-point attempts to that point as well, and with that in mind it appeared their second half strategy was to key in on what was working best - continue to feed the ball to their big man inside for the easy buckets. That minor adjustment appeared to be working to plan as the Cowboys slowly built up a seven point lead with fifteen minutes remaining.
It only took one awkward misstep during a pass to change the tone of the entire building. Larry Nance Jr. crumbled to the floor in an obvious amount of pain, clutching his right knee - a sign all-too-reminiscent of the ACL injury that ended the collegiate career of Wyoming's homegrown all-star shooting guard, Marcus Bailey, back in December of 2002. As Nance was helped off of the court, unable to put any weight on his right leg, it was very clear that this was likely much more than a banged knee or a sprain.
Wyoming managed to keep their emotions in check, and behind the leadership of their lone true senior Nathan Sobey, were able to finish what Nance had started to stay the course and win the game. The question that remains to be answered for this squad moving forward is, "Is there life without Larry?" It's true that Wyoming has a healthy rotation of talent that have the ability to elevate their game and lead the team to victory. However, every team has an occasional off night, or a scoring slump that requires them to revert back to their foundation, or core leader to find stability and act as a catalyst to overcome those hurdles; for Wyoming, that player is Larry Nance Jr.
The Cowboys are certainly a resilient team and no strangers to adversity, but they don't have a lot of time to reassess and adjust team assignments to figure out who is going to make up those 15 points, 8 rebounds and aggressive inside presence against Colorado State this Saturday. They certainly have the bodies and potential capability to make up for the tangibles, but who is going to step up and be the consistently stable foundation that this team can fall back on during the most difficult of times? The Wyoming Cowboys and their brotherhood of team camaraderie, will be doing some necessary soul-searching in the coming days and will look to continue forward with, life without Nance.