Coming off their fifth-straight loss, the Utah Valley men’s basketball team traveled to Laramie, Wyoming to face the Wyoming Cowboys. The Cowboys entered the game nursing a five-game losing streak of their own — making this a must-win game on Wednesday, Dec. 18, for both teams hoping to end their early-season struggles.
The Wolverines have struggled this season in close games, having lost five games decided by six points or less. Most recently, they fell at home by six points when they played Northern Arizona on Saturday, Dec. 14, at the UCCU Center. Conversely, UW has lost six games by at least double-digits.
From the opening tip UVU played with a purpose — shutting down UW on the defensive end. The front court made aggressive efforts to close-out against UW’s shooters and limit open shots. On the offensive side, the Wolverines moved the ball well but could not connect — at one point they missed three-consecutive shots in the paint.
Junior guard Isaiah White provided a spark off the bench for the Wolverines. After checking in with 15 minutes remaining in the half, he quickly recorded three offensive rebounds and a steal which led to a fast break dunk by junior guard Cavit Ege Havsa.
The other bench players for UVU had difficulty reigning in UW’s offense. The Cowboys took advantage of the post against UVU’s second unit to keep the score close. UVU led 31-26 at the half after giving up a last-second 3-pointer to UW.
White led the Wolverines with 13 points and 6 rebounds at the half after shooting 7-of-7 from the charity stripe. UVU held UW’s season scoring leader, sophomore guard Hunter Maldonado, in check for the first half. Maldonado scored only three points for the Cowboys.
UVU came out with the same defensive energy to start the second half — but UW adjusted and was able to get open looks both in the paint and from beyond the arc. Maldonado found his groove late in the game and finished with 23 points.
UW took their first lead of the second half with five minutes left to play, thanks to lackluster offensive possessions by UVU. Senior guard T.J. Washington earned six attempts from the free-throw line in the final minutes to keep the game within reach for the Wolverines.
Junior guard Brandon Averette made two foul shots to tie the game with 36 seconds on the clock. Maldonado turned the ball over on the Cowboys ensuing possession to junior guard Jamison Overton, who assisted White on the go-ahead layup with seven seconds to play.
It wasn’t always pretty, but the Wolverines got the win they desperately needed by a score of 69-67. The team made the shots that counted — going 17-of-18 from the charity stripe. White led the Wolverines in scoring with 19, followed by Averette who had 18. White also led all players in rebounds with nine.
Next up, UVU will head west to play Long Beach State on Saturday, Dec. 21, at 5 p.m. MST.