Following a home loss to New Mexico State Thursday, Jan. 16, the Utah Valley men’s basketball team played host to the UT Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros on Saturday, Jan. 18. The Wolverines entered play hoping to end their three-game losing streak and pick up a win against the 6-11 Vaqueros.
UVU has struggled to win at home this season — posting a 3-4 record at the UCCU Center. In order for UVU to get out of the cellar of the WAC standings, they need to establish more consistency on the home front, especially against middle-of-the-pack conference foes like UTRGV.
If the Wolverines are consistent in one area, though, it is stumbling out of the gate early in games, and Saturday’s game was no different. The Vaqueros played a relentless full-court defense from the opening tip and UVU’s starters found it nearly impossible to get open looks. UVU fell behind 12-3 before head coach Mark Madsen called a timeout to mix things up with the starting lineup.
Senior guard T.J. Washington was a catalyst off the bench as his scoring and ability to space the floor helped UVU fight back to a 30-30 tie at halftime. Senior forward Emmanuel Olojakpoke was dominant on the defensive post, racking up four blocked shots in the first half.
Both teams started the second half firing on all cylinders. With nearly a dozen lead changes, both teams were evenly matched, and neither led by more than five points.
Washington came off the bench again in the second half and had a noticeable impact whenever he was on the floor. Junior guard Jamison Overton stepped up off the bench in the second half as well, scoring 12 points and grabbing five rebounds.
The Wolverines seemed to sense the importance of getting a win and played with a heroic sense of urgency through the last six minutes of the game. Washington seemed completely unstoppable at times, and junior guard Isaiah White put his body on the line more than once to dive after loose balls.
The Vaqueros seemed to have an answer for everything though and tied the game at 68 on a jumper by junior guard Javon Levi with 43 seconds left. A pair of free throws by Casdon Jardine put UVU ahead 70-68, but the Vaqueros answered quickly and tied the game again with 14 seconds to play.
With time running out, Washington took on the defense in isolation before passing to White who hit a go-ahead layup with 1.2 seconds to spare. UTRGV was unable to get another shot off before time expired.
Washington’s 25 points led all scorers and Overton added 16 for the Wolverines, who didn’t have any starters finish with more than nine points. Olojakpoke’s five blocks brought his season total to 56, which ties Ben Aird from the 2012-13 season for the second most in a season in school history.
UVU improved their home record to 4-4, and their overall record to 8-12. Their next test will come on the road against the CSU Bakersfield Roadrunners next Thursday, Jan. 23, at 8 p.m. MST.
Photo by Cameron Hunsinger