Wolverines fall to WAC rival GCU 79-69

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The Utah Valley men’s basketball team was defeated by the Grand Canyon Lopes at the UCCU Center on Thursday, Feb. 10, with a score of 79-69.

“It was a tough-fought game. I thought our effort was there but our execution was poor,” said head coach Mark Madsen.

The Wolverines came into the matchup sitting at sixth place (6-4) in the tightly contested WAC, three games back of frontrunner NMSU. In a crucial matchup for seeding, the Wolverines dropped a crucial matchup against a GCU team that sits 0.5 a game ahead of the Wolverines in the WAC standings with the four-seed.

The Wolverines jumped out to an early 15-8 lead, anchored in the post by Fardaws Aimaq and Tim Fuller. After a quick 6-0, Lope run neither team was able to gain an edge as the teams traded baskets. It was a struggle to put the ball in the basket as the Wolverines shot just 30.3% percent from the floor in the half. 

The perimeter defense of Le’Tre Darthard, Blaze Nield and Harding stood tall, however, holding the Lopes to a frigid 22.2% from behind the arc. Darthard was the high man for the Wolverines with eight points in a balanced scoring attack that featured all five Wolverine starters getting on the board. Aimaq put up six points to go along with nine first-half rebounds and Fuller put up five points to go along with five rebounds and three blocks. The Wolverines went into the locker room clinging to a narrow 30-28 lead.

The second half certainly didn’t begin the way the Wolverines drew it up in the locker room as the first points scored were an own-basket tipped in by Aimaq inadvertently. Again the Wolverines were able to create separation early leading 38-32, however, the Lopes again were able to close the gap and keep the game within striking distance. After holding the lead since the 15-minute mark of the first half, the Lopes were able to retake the lead 43-42 in just the game’s second lead change with 13:10 to play in the game. 

Momentum appeared to shift in the Lopes’s favor as Justin Harmon subsequently picked up an offensive foul after the Wolverines relinquished the lead. This helped to fuel a 14-2 Lope run to claim their largest lead of the game at six. That lead ballooned to 11 as the Wolverines turned over the ball four times in three minutes of play. With 9:43 to play, Fuller shoved GCU’s Taeshon Cherry in the back on an open fast-break and was assessed a flagrant-two foul, resulting in his ejection for the rest of the contest. 

Coming down the home stretch the Wolverines went ice cold, scoring just two points in four minutes. With just three minutes to go in the contest, UVU trailed GCU 64-55. The Wolverines forced back-to-back turnovers but ultimately were not able to capitalize on their chances. Unable to close the gap, the Wolverines fell to GCU 79-69. 

The Wolverines finished the game with four players scoring in double figures. Darthard was the high man with 16 points, Aimaq knocked in 15, Harmon put up 11 and Nield added in 10 points in the loss. The Wolverines struggled shooting, netting just 39.7% of their shots while they were unable to stifle the surging GCU offense in the second half, where they shot a blistering 54% from the field and 50% from three. The Wolverines also gave up 25 points off of turnovers in the loss.

“We had 12 turnovers, which is not a lot, however, they had 25 points off of those turnovers which means they were live-ball turnovers…We have to do a better job on our part”

The Wolverines fall to 6-5 in conference play and are now tied with Tarleton State for the eight seed in the WAC. UVU will next face off against WAC frontrunner NMSU at the UCCU Center on Saturday, Feb 12. The match tips off at 2 p.m. MT and can be streamed on ESPN+.