Season ends in heartbreaking loss at WAC tournament

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Wolverines finish 12-18 in Mark Pope’s first season as Head Coach.

The UVU men’s basketball team’s season ended Thursday with a loss to the Missouri-Kansas City Kangaroos in the first round of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

With nine seconds left in the game, the ball deflected out of bounds off the hand of UMKC’s Darius Austin. After review, officials awarded the ball to the ‘Roos. The play was a microcosm of the Wolverines’ season; things just didn’t go their way.

First-year head coach Mark Pope dealt with a roster decimated by injuries before the season even began, forcing him to manage minutes between nine players by the end of the season. The short bench led to blown leads late in games, and a size deficiency that showed in the box score with a mismatch on the boards. Even so, the Wolverines accomplished a goal set by Pope before their season tipped off.

“I think my expectations are that we’re going to work really hard everyday,” said Pope. “That we’re going to be a way better team at the end of the season than we are at the start of the season.”

The season came to an end for Konner Frey and the UVU men's basketball team in a heartbreaking loss to UMKC in the first round of the WAC tournament. Photo by Jay Drowns.

The season came to an end for Konner Frey and the UVU men’s basketball team in a heartbreaking loss to UMKC in the first round of the WAC tournament on March 10. Photo by Jay Drowns.

The coaching staff worked with the depleted roster and found ways to win games to earn the No. 4 seed in the WAC Tournament. Pope gave credit to his players throughout the season for continuing to fight against teams where they were overmatched and undersized.

The Wolverines completed the season with an overall record of 12-18, including 6-8 in the WAC. After opening the season 2-6, UVU snapped a four-game losing streak with the win of the year by defeating Weber State in double overtime at the UCCU Center. Twice the Wolverines erased a seven-point deficit to force extra frames before putting away the Wildcats.

UVU opened conference play with a devastating 78-66 loss to the New Mexico State Aggies. The Wolverines led for the first 30 minutes of play but couldn’t hold off the regular season champions and pull off the upset. Through the course of WAC play, the Wolverines either swept or were swept in their conference series. UVU beat UTRGV, Chicago State, and UMKC twice each. But got swept by NMSU, Grand Canyon, CSU-Bakersfield, and Seattle U.

Despite the losing record, the Wolverines gave UVU fans highlights to remember. Jaden Jackson set a school record against UTRGV with nine 3-pointers in a game at the UCCU Center. Marcel Davis hit a game-winner with 0.9 seconds left to beat Chicago State and recorded two double-doubles on the season. Davis was named to the all-WAC second team. Konner Frey was named WAC Newcomer of the Year.

Though they beat the Roos twice in conference play, the Wolverines couldn’t get the elusive third win in Las Vegas. Pope had said prior to the game, “it is hard to beat a team three consecutive times.” After holding a 13-point halftime lead, UVU’s run ended after senior guard Cory Cardwell’s half-court heave missed left.

“There’s a very, very deep sadness that we don’t get to compete again together,” Pope said. “They hurt us in a way that nobody hurt us all season. We just couldn’t quite figure it out. I’m so proud of this team and what they have accomplished this season. This is a special group of guys and I’m blessed to have been able to coach them.”