LARAMIE -- It almost took a perfect storm.

The non-conference schedule needed to be strong. The Mountain West needed to be tough. True road wins would be crucial. So would an upset or three. It also took a little luck. It always does.

Jeff Linder's Cowboys arrived on the national scene well before anyone expected them to. Just ask the league's media members. They penciled Wyoming in at No. 8 in the preseason polls.

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Eighth? That was too low, but did anyone really expect the Pokes to start the season 8-0, including impressive road victories over Washington and Grand Canyon? Probably not.

On Dec. 8, UW traveled to Tucson where they weren't much of a matchup for the 11th-ranked Arizona Wildcats. Were they exposed? Was this reality setting in?

Nope.

After that 94-65 rout in the desert, Linder's bunch -- mainly on the backs of big man Graham Ike and newly appointed point guard Hunter Maldonado -- won seven of its next eight games. That featured a pair of road wins over Utah State and Nevada and what would become a rather large victory over eventual Missouri Valley Conference champion, Northern Iowa.

Oh, and who can forget the nearly month long COVID-19 pause that backloaded the back half of the Cowboys' regular-season schedule?

And how about Maldonado's coast-to-coast heroics at the buzzer in his hometown against Air Force?

There were the upsets over Border War rival Colorado State and Boise State inside a raucous Arena-Auditorium. The Dome of Doom is definitely on the comeback trail.

Maybe the most important outcome came in the season finale when UW outlasted Fresno State 68-64 in overtime. A loss there could've been the death nail to puncture the bubble.

That one was huge. The next one was even bigger.

Most figured the Cowboys needed at least one victory in the Mountain West Tournament. That would have to come against the hometown Rebels, a team Wyoming hadn't beaten inside the Thomas & Mack Center since 2003.

Xavier DuSell made that damning stat a thing of the past, nailing a triple with 30 ticks remaining. Brendan Wenzel salted it away with a pair of free throws. The Cowboys escaped with a 59-56 victory over UNLV.

Turns out, that was enough -- just enough -- to vault the Pokes into the NCAA Tournament for the 16th time in program history and the first time since 2015.

You can relive that wild ride below, courtesy of our photographers DJ Johnson, Lindsay Bugas, the UW media staff and Getty Images.

Relive the special moments from the Wyoming Cowboys 2021-22 basketball season

Jeff Linder's Cowboys arrived ahead of schedule last season, posting a 25-9 overall record and a 13-5 mark in Mountain West play. For the 16th time in program history, Wyoming also punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Relive some of the moments that got them there right here.

Wyoming lands in 16th NCAA Tournament

Dome of Doom

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