Wolverines fall short against Abilene Christian in Hercules WAC Tournament, 82-74

Utah Valley recorded it's first 20 win season since 2018-19 (Photo courtesy of Nathan Farmer).

The Utah Valley men’s basketball team fell to Abilene Christian on Wednesday, March 9, in the first round of the 2022 Hercules Tires WAC Tournament, 82-74.

“You have to give a lot of credit to Abilene Christian,” said head coach Mark Madsen. “They forced us into a few too many turnovers…I’m proud of our guys, we came up short tonight but the fight the energy the passion our guys played with was tremendous,” said Madsen. 

Fardaws Aimaq scored 20 points and grabbed 11 boards to lead the Wolverines and Le’Tre Darthard put in 13 points in the loss. Connor Harding scored 12 points, seven of which he scored in the opening minutes, and Trey Woodbury put in 10 as well. The Wolverines shot 52% on the night but could not overcome 21 turnovers.

Connor Harding was the spark for the Wolverines early as he scored seven of the Wolverine’s first 12 points in the opening minutes. After a post hook over two defenders dropped for Aimaq, the Wolverines found themselves with a 16-11 lead at the under-16 media timeout. Midway through the half, the Wolverines utilized a 7-0 run to go up 23-13. The Wolverines couldn’t miss however turnovers helped keep Wildcats in the game. A 3-pointer by ACU’s Cameron Steele helped cap off an 8-0 Wildcat run which brought the score back to within two points, however, the Wolverines responded out of a timeout with a 7-0 run of their own, including two 3-pointers from Jaden McClanahan. Each and every time the Wolverines put some distance between the teams the Wildcats would respond to keep the game within striking distance. Heading into the locker room, the Wolverines found themselves up 41-37. 

Aimaq put up 10 points in the half and McClanahan put in nine points off the bench. Harding had seven points as well, all scored in the opening five minutes and Trey Woodbury scored six points. UVU shot a blistering 60% from the field and 46% from beyond the arc, however, the team’s 10 turnovers kept ACU in the game. The Wildcats matched the Wolverine’s hot shooting for the most part shooting 56% from the floor. The Wolverines never trailed and led for 18:46 of the first half. The Wolverines also out-rebounded ACU 15-7.

Neither team was able to gain much of any separation as the Wolverines clung to a three-point lead early in the second half. With 12:02 to play, the Wildcats took their first lead of the night at 57-56 with a corner trey from Tobias Cameron. As both teams traded baskets, the Wolverines continued to struggle, turning over the ball seven times in the first 10 minutes of action. In a boxing match between two scorching offenses, every play down the stretch was monumental. Foul trouble started to become an issue for the Wolverines with 7:00 to go in the contest as Harding picked up his third personal. Harding, Nield, and McClanahan found themselves in foul trouble as the clock winded down. 

With 4:47 to play the Wolverines found themselves trailing by seven, their largest deficit of the game. ACU seemingly could not miss from the three-point line,  going on a 14-3 run to claim a 75-69 lead. Somewhat off-script, neither team scored for roughly three minutes stemming into the final minute of the contest. After a missed 3-pointer from Woodbury down five, the Wolverines were forced to play the foul game and ultimately fell to ACU, 82-74. 

Barring an invite to the CBI or the CIT tournament, the Wolverines’ season ends as they finish 20-12 and 10-9 in WAC play. The future of this Wolverine squad is uncertain as Aimaq has a decision to make whether or not to enter the NBA Draft. Harding, Colby Leifson, Asa McCord, and Brock Anderson will not be returning next season as the Wolverines will look to build on their first 20 win year since the 2018-19 season. In a season full of history, the Wolverines ended up falling short of their goal of reaching the NCAA Tournament.

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