By Warren McDade
Utah Valley University held off a late rally from Chicago State to stay undefeated in the WAC with a 62-55 victory on Saturday at the UCCU Center.
The Wolverines (12-7, 6-0) came out ready to go and built an 18-point first half lead, but had to hold off the Cougars (9-11, 4-2) in a game in which first place was on the line. Utah Valley has currently won seven straight games and sits alone atop the WAC standings.
UVU completely dominated the first half, coming out shooting 56 percent with Zach Nelson and Hayes Garrity leading the way with seven and six points, respectively. Garrity was a huge spark off the bench and made two acrobatic layups during an 11-0 run. Holton Hunsaker buried a jumper to push the lead to 18 with 3:38 left in the half.
“We knew it would be a battle. Chicago State always plays with tremendous energy and effort and that’s a real credit to coach (Tracy) Dildy and his staff,” UVU head coach Dick Hunsaker said. “There’s a lot of familiarity with their personnel and we’ve had a lot of games over the years with them. We feel very fortunate that we were able to pull this out and end up on the right side of the score.”
Chicago State closed the gap to 12 before Nelson put in a nifty layup to put UVU up 35-21 at the half.
The Cougars full-court press caused some problems in the second half for Utah Valley as the Cougars went on a 10-2 run to start the half and cut the lead to 39-31. Keawe Enos and Nelson then hit back-to-back threes to stop the run. Ben Aird also hit a jumper to push the lead back up to 15 for the Wolverines, 47-32.
Utah Valley led by 13 before Chicago State’s final run. Matt Ross hit a 3-pointer to make it a four-point game, and then hit a layup to end a 13-2 run as the Cougars were within two at 56-54 with 1:12 remaining.
Garrity made two free throws and Clarke Rosenberg went 1-for-2 from the line for Chicago State. Hunsaker hit two free throws, and Nelson grabbed a big offensive rebound on the Wolverines’ next possession before Hunsaker nailed another pair of from the line to seal the game for Utah Valley.
Hunsaker struggled from the field, making only one shot, but went 11-for-13 from the stripe to lead UVU with 13 points. Aird put in a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds, while Nelson had 10 points, 12 boards and six assists. Enos also scored 10, and Garrity chipped in 8 off the bench.
Chicago State was led by Rosenberg, who led all scorers with 19 points. Ross had 13 and 11 rebounds, while leading scorer Quinton Pippen was held to 13 points on 4-of-13 shooting. The Cougars as a team shot only 36 percent, and just could not find their touch the whole game.
The Wolverines will now head on the road to play Texas-Pan-American next Thursday then goes to defending WAC champion New Mexico State on Saturday.