The Utah Valley men’s basketball team defeated Chicago State in the first round of the Hercules WAC Tournament on Tuesday, March 8, 69-47.
Fardaws Aimaq was the high scorer for the Wolverines with 20 points and six rebounds. Blaze Nield put in 12 points and Tim Fuller put in six in the win. The Wolverines utilized a massive second half defensively to put the Cougars away.
Utah Valley took off sprinting from the tip but the Cougars were able to match their pace as both teams traded buckets early. Five minutes into the contest, a Connor Harding 3-pointer put the Wolverines up 13-8. Fardaws Aimaq got things rolling, scoring 10 points in the first five minutes of the contest.
At the 12:15 mark of the first half, Wolverine fans saw a familiar face check into the game as Trey Woodbury took the floor for the first time since the end of the 2020-21 season. The Wolverines’ leading scorer in 2021, who has been rehabilitating a knee injury, did not play during the regular season and made his first appearance in the WAC Tournament.
“Trey Woodbury played tonight, you know it lit a fire under me just seeing him out there…it reminded me of why we play this game,” said Aimaq.
Despite the Wolverines leading by as many as eight, the Cougars capped off a 10-0 run to take the lead as the offense went ice cold. UVU was finally able to get the ball rolling again on offense after a 3:16 drought. Responding with a 6-0 run to close out the half, Utah Valley led CSU 32-29 heading into the break.
Aimaq led the way for the Wolverines in the first half with 14 points and five rebounds. Blaze Nield chipped in six points and Harding and Justin Harmon each put in five points as well. The Wolverines shot 48% from the field and 42.9% from beyond the arc while holding CSU to 33% shooting from the floor.
The Wolverines put on the pressure defensively coming out of the locker room. Upping the aggressiveness, Utah Valley was able to force three turnovers in the early minutes of the second half, surpassing the two turnovers they forced in the entirety of the first half. Nield blew past a defender and laid the ball in to help to spark an avalanche of a 12-0 Wolverine run. The Wolverines claimed a 46-32 lead off of an Aimaq 3-pointer with 15:04 to play, their largest lead of the night. That lead ballooned to 20 as the Wolverines went on a crushing 21-3 run, taking a 55-35 lead.
With 10:23 to play in the contest, Woodbury buried a 3-pointer on the left-wing, igniting the crowd with his first points of the season. As the Wolverines poured it on offensively, CSU seemingly could not find the bottom of the net. UVU dominated the boards in the closing period, out-rebounding the Cougars 19-10 coming into the closing five minutes of the matchup.
The Wolverines have a quick turnaround, matching up against the #6 seed Abeline Christian in the second round of the tournament on Wednesday, March 9. The game tips off at 8:30 pm MT and can be streamed on ESPN+ and the WAC Digital Network.
Sports Editor and Senior Staff Writer
Senior at Utah Valley University majoring in applied communications.