UVU picked up its first win on the road over Bakersfield, 82-74, also securing the Wolverines first Western Athletic Conference victory in the process.
Senior center Ben Aird was named WAC player of the week for his 26 points, 13 rebounds and four assists in the win, which, offensively, was earned on the shoulders of the UVU frontcourt. Freshman forward Zach Nelson contributed 22 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists and three blocks.
“They (Aird and Nelson) both put outstanding games together and certainly were the catalysts on the interior because of their effort and the energy and they played with,” head coach Dick Hunsaker said.
Only one reserve, sophomore guard Hayes Garrity, saw more than five minutes off the bench, and all five starters played at least 31 minutes; Nelson logging 38 and senior point guard Holton Hunsaker playing 39.
Despite the reliance on six players, the Wolverines committed just 10 fouls, compared to the Roadrunners’ 19. The discrepancy led to UVU going 21-for-24 from the free-throw line, as Bakersfield was just 6-for-10.
The host of the event, the Roadrunners, was selected to finish third in the revamped WAC in both the preseason media and coaches polls. Forward Brandon Barnes, son of Bakersfield head coach Rod Barnes, was one of three forwards named to the all-WAC first team.
Hunsaker’s team owns the WAC’s best scoring defense as of Jan. 8, allowing 67.6 points per game and was able to hold Barnes and company in check.
“We work hard,” Hunsaker said. “We play within our physical limitations, and we have done a commendable job of executing the gameplans and scouting reports.
Among the challenges that that UVU faced entering the contest was how to reduce open looks from the perimeter. Bakersfield owns the best team percentage from 3-point range in the WAC at 42.3 percent and has two guards among the top five shooters in the conference from 3-point range.
The Roadrunners went 8-for-20 from behind the arc, a stat that could’ve had a greater effect on the outcome had the Wolverines not gone 7-for-14.
Senior guard Keawe Enos was 3-for-4 from the land of plenty to raise his WAC-best 51 percent shooting average from distance. Every UVU starter made a least one three.
The Wolverines shifted their focus to Grand Canyon following their momentous win. The Antelopes visited the UCCU Center Jan. 11, coming off a 22-point loss to New Mexico State.
However, Coach Hunsaker said that UVU knew Grand Canyon senior forward Killian Larson and the ‘Lopes are more than capable of surprising teams in their first season in Division I.
“We’re going to have to get our energy and focus back into transition and getting matched up defensively,” he said. “They have a number of scoring weapons. Many have told me that Larson is, outside of the New Mexico State bigs, the best (big man) in the conference.”
Larson scored 26 points and had 12 rebounds in the Grand Canyon’s first WAC win over UTPA. Larson was sixth in the league in scoring at 15.7 points coming into the contest.
Prior to the league opener, the Wolverines’ road losing streak had reached six. After the opportunity to improve its 6-1 record at home, UVU will be in Moscow, Idaho Jan. 16 for a showdown with the Vandals (0-2, 6-10).