LARAMIE, Wyo. — Wyoming men's basketball coach Allen Edwards said he is using the CBI as an opportunity to look toward the future of the program. In Wyoming's first-round game, a 91-81 defeat of Eastern Washington, that manifested itself most conspicuously in the starting lineup.
Sophomore Justin James and redshirt freshman Andrew Moemeka both got their first starts of the year in the game. Though James had yet to start this year, putting the guard in the starting lineup wasn't exactly a dramatic change. The Mountain West sixth man of the year has played the fourth most minutes of anyone on the team this season.
For Moemeka, however, it was a big shift. The 6-foot-8 forward has played the fourth fewest minutes of any Wyoming player this year. He played a career-high 19 minutes in the win.
"It felt pretty good to get out with the guys and then win the jump ball," Moemeka said. "That felt big-time to me."
The Lake City, Florida, native's athleticism is apparent as soon as he steps on the court. That could translate into him being a key piece of Wyoming's roster in the coming years.
"Oh yeah, I’m excited to see where he can go," junior Hayden Dalton said. "He’s athletic. He wants to get better, and he’s hard-working."
Added Moemeka: "It’s definitely fun, because it’s great when hard work pays off. And I feel like I’ve been working pretty hard. ... If I keep it up, hopefully next year I get to start, too."
Maybe the biggest hindrance to Moemeka getting more minutes this season has been foul trouble. The freshman averages 9.3 fouls per 40 minutes, the most of anyone on the team. Sophomore Jordan Naughton, second in that category, averages just 6.0 fouls per 40 minutes.
"The problem is really just sometimes I’m overly aggressive," Moemeka said. "And with the new rules they have this year, you can’t have too much contact down in the post. Coming from high school, I was just a really big shot-blocker, so a lot of times here I just try to get out of the area, and sometimes that’s a mistake and I end up getting a foul for that.
"So yeah, we’ve been working with my timing and just me staying down on my feet and being smart and knowing when to jump and when not to jump."
The new rules Moemeka referred to have resulted in many of his fouls this season. NCAA changes have allowed for less contact for players trying to establish themselves in the post this year, offensively or defensively.
"The post is supposed to be physical," Moemeka said. "So if he’s trying to get in front of you and you have to touch him to front him, then it’s going to be a foul every time. So you just have to be smart and use your feet."
Added Dalton: "It’s just a lot different. It’s just a lot less physical in the post and on screens and on different stuff like that. You just can’t get as physical on guys now, and I think it takes a little bit away from, especially, the post game. But you get used to it. And when they start calling them like they have been all year, you kind of adjust to it automatically."
And when you're 6-foot-8, as both Moemeka and Dalton are, there's no hiding from the referees.
"They see me," Moemeka said. "They definitely see me."
In his first collegiate start, Moemeka made strides. He was not called for a foul in the first half and ended the game with just two personals. One of which came on a transition block that impressed pretty much everyone in the building but one official.
"That was clean," Moemeka said. "I got the turnover, and I knew I had to get the possession back. So I tried. I tried my hardest to get it back, but the refs don’t always get you what you want."
Said Dalton: "Oh, I didn’t (think it was as foul) either. And then we were standing at the free-throw line, and even (Eastern Washington senior Jacob Wiley) said it. He said, ‘That was a bad call.’ That was funny."
Moemeka said he doesn't know whether he will start again Monday when Wyoming hosts Missouri-Kansas City in a second-round CBI matchup.
"I’m just expecting to do whatever coach needs from me," he said. "(Eastern Washington) had an undersized, athletic big last game, so I figured that was a pretty good matchup for me so that’s probably why he started me.
"We’ll see how the scout looks (Friday) in practice, and I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing. If that gets me the start, that’s great."