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Wyoming’s Hunter Maldonado presses on despite back spasms

November 30, 2018

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — Is Hunter Maldonado going to play? Depends on the day.

Maldonado wants to suit up for Wyoming every game — and the Cowboys need him on the floor as much as possible — but right now, it’s a matter of pain tolerance for the sophomore guard. Maldonado is dealing with back spasms that began after he took a tumble out of bounds in Wyoming’s season opener against UC Santa Barbara on Nov. 6.

Since then, they’ve come and gone without warning, leaving the Cowboys guessing as to whether they’ll have their second-leading scorer and rebounder from game to game.

“It’s been random,” Maldonado said. “Just been kind of doing things to get it to calm down.”

Maldonado underwent X-rays on Tuesday with the team still awaiting those results. In the meantime, he’s seeing chiropractors, taking muscle relaxers and sleeping on a heating pad to try to keep his lower back from tightening up overnight.

Some mornings are worse than others in that regard, but he said stretching, exercises and going through the parts of the Cowboys’ practices that aren’t too strenuous are usually enough to loosen him up.

And when the pain isn’t too severe, Maldonado plays — usually at a high level. The 6-foot-7, 200-pounder is averaging 14.2 points and eight rebounds while logging an average of 33.2 minutes in the five games he’s played.

“It’s not like it’s going to totally go away, but it’s bearable,” Maldonado told the Casper Star-Tribune. “It’s not like something I can’t play with, or obviously I wouldn’t play.”

But it’s gotten to that point at times.

Wyoming’s cross-country flight to play in the Fort Myers Tip-Off before Thanksgiving affected Maldonado to the point he couldn’t play in the Cowboys’ tournament opener against Boston College on Nov. 19. Two days later, he had 15 points and eight rebounds in 35 minutes in Wyoming’s 68-66 win over Richmond.

The Cowboys had nearly a week off before traveling to Evansville, Indiana, for Wednesday’s matchup with Evansville as part of the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge. Again, the pain was too much for Maldonado to give it a go.

“I think the traveling has been hurting him when you talk about his back and his discs,” Wyoming coach Allen Edwards said on postgame radio. “The bus ride to Denver and then we chartered this trip, but just in the sense of the two and a half hours on the plane, those things, from what I’m being told, affects what’s going on with his back.

“If he’s not playing, then it really must hurt because I think he’s a very tough kid.”

Maldonado, who also sustained a high ankle sprain that forced him to miss a handful of games toward the end of last season, doesn’t anticipate the injury being one that lingers all season. With rest and continued proper treatment, he said he feels like he can be back to 100 percent by the time the Cowboys start the Mountain West portion of their schedule in January.

Wyoming has already dealt with its share of injuries through the first seven games, particularly in the frontcourt. Senior forward Jordan Naughton (knee) is aiming to be back by the start of league play while freshman big Hunter Thompson missed five games going through concussion protocol before returning with a career-high 15 points in the Cowboys’ 86-78 loss at Evansville.

“I just want to be out there with the guys and help them out but doing what I can to get myself healthy because I know we still have a ton of games left,” Maldonado said. “I’m going to be needed in those games.”

Wyoming will start a three-game homestand over a two-week period Saturday with a 4 p.m. tip against Northern Colorado. It includes games against Power Five foe South Carolina (Dec. 5) and the University of Denver (Dec. 11).

The Cowboys plan to use the extended time in Laramie cautiously in order to give themselves the best chance to have one of their more valuable players available for all of them.

“My thing to him, my thing to (trainer) Dallas (Fichtner), and my thing to the coaching staff is we’ve just got to minimize what he does,” Edwards said. “He might be one of the best if not the best basketball IQ kid I’ve ever coached. I can say something and he picks it up right away whether he’s sitting there or he’s on the floor. It doesn’t matter, so my thing is let’s just make sure he’s in shape. We need him more in games than in practice.”

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Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

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