Utah Valley played their last of four fellow Utah opponents when they hosted Utah State University on Saturday, Dec. 21. A big defensive effort led the Wolverines to pull out the victory and get their second win on the season, beating the Aggies 57-49.
Hot shooting from both teams to start out the game was sure a great sign for UVU fans. Two back-to-back triples from deep by sophomore guard Madison Grange gave the Wolverines a 16-7 lead with under two minutes in the quarter. The Aggies proved that they had the same skills in them when freshman guard Faith Brantley and sophomore guard Steph Gorman answered with three’s of their own.
The UVU defense came alive in the second quarter, holding USU to a measly five points on 1-of-14 shooting. The Wolverine defense was so good in fact, that the Aggies were held without a field goal until sophomore forward Emma Dudley knocked down a jumper with the clock winding down to three seconds. The remainder of the five points came in the form of free throws.
“They played as a team and competed the whole way and just a great way to go into Christmas,” said UVU head coach Dan Nielson. “Defense was the key, I thought we did a really good job particularly on their shooters, taking them out and I’m just proud.”
Three Wolverines found themselves in double-digits in the points category. Sophomores Nehaa Sohail (forward) and Eve Braslis (guard) each racked up 10 points while senior forward Jordan Holland led the team with 16.
USU’s Brantley and senior forward Hailey Bassett led their team in scoring at 14 and 13 points, respectively. What might have been the turning point for the Aggies was Bassett. She played all 20 minutes of the second half — her only minutes of the game — and knocked down 13 points, grabbed nine rebounds and swatted away two shots.
Other areas where the Wolverines thrived were points in the paint and points from turnovers. Despite the UVU bigs playing fewer minutes, the Wolverines were still able to get 22 points in the paint. Add another 15 points off of turnovers and the fact that the lead was controlled for all but a minute and a half, and the Wolverines win it.
UVU has one more game to play before facing off against WAC opponents. Ottawa (Arizona) will come to the UCCU center on Saturday, Dec. 28. From there, UVU will host three WAC teams starting with the only team in the conference that has a worse record than the Wolverines, Chicago State, on Thursday, Jan. 2.
“We’ve preached all year, the key is being ready for conference, and we’re lucky, we’ve got three home games to start conference and we need to start well,” said Nielson.