Fardaws Aimaq scored 24 points and grabbed 22 rebounds as the Utah Valley Wolverines defeated #12 BYU on Wednesday, Dec 1 at the UCCU Center by a score of 72-65. Aimaq also showed up on the defensive end in a big way with five steals and three blocks. Justin Harmon had a huge performance with 24 points, three blocks, two steals off the bench. This is the Wolverines seventh straight win as they hand the 6-0 Cougars their first loss of the season. At #12 in the nation, BYU was the highest-ranked opponent to ever visit the UCCU Center.
“Our guys have really bought in,” head coach Mark Madsen said on the Wolverines defensive performance. “Our defensive coordinator Jarred Jackson has brought a lot of great defensive principles…it helps to have a lot of perimeter defenders that love to play defense.”
The Wolverines held the Cougars at bay on the offensive end as they shot just 31.9% from the field on the game, 25.9% from the three-point line turned the ball over 15 times. The perimeter defense of the Wolverines managed to hold BYU’s star Alex Barcello to 17 points on 6-16 shooting and the team recorded eight blocks in the game.
Aimaq and the Wolverines came into the matchup riding a six game winning streak, including winning the 2021 SoCal Challenge. Coming in playing against a highly ranked Cougar team, the Wolverines had nothing but confidence.
“The way we play, we can play with anybody,” said Aimaq. The Wolverines move to 4-0 in overtime games this season. When asked what was said in the huddle before overtime began, Aimaq said, “Nothing was said…all we said is that if it’s going into overtime we’re gonna win.”
The Wolverines struggled early, missing their first 13 shots and both teams looked flat to start. Connor Harding finally put the Wolverines on the board with two free throws with 16:09 to play in the first half. Both teams were tied at 2-2 five minutes through the first half as the offenses struggled to produce. The Wolverines got down early 9-2 before Justin Harmon finally broke the ice and scored on a fastbreak for the Wolverines. This sparked a 9-0 run by the Wolverines to take the lead 11-9. However, BYU then countered with an 8-0 run of their own to go up 17-11. The rebounding battle was relatively even at 24-21 favoring the Cougars and Fardaws Aimaq had 10 huge rebounds in the first half to go along with four steals. Justin Harmon had a key offensive performance with nine points and the Wolverines went into the half down 24-22 against the #12 team in the nation. The Wolverines held BYU to 31% from the field and just 30% from behind the three-point line. Both teams showed up defensively and forced 7 TO each. The Wolverines shot just 27.6% from the field and 27.3% from behind the arch but kept pace with the Cougars in the low scoring first half.
The Wolverines began the second half much more aggressively on the offensive end. In a hotly contested, back-and-forth second half neither team could quite gain the edge. With 12:30 to play, BYU went on a quick 5-0 run that put the Cougars up 42-35. Both teams continued to trade buckets with the Cougars holding the seven point separation. The Wolverines were down 50-43 with 3:26 to play when Harmon helped spark a momentum-shfting 11-1 run to put the Wolverines on top 54-51 in the closing seconds. UVU had control of the game and the momentum and just had to make free throws to put the game away. The Cougars managed to hang in there, getting to the free throw line to cut the lead to just one with 10 seconds left. After Aimaq went 1-2 from the line, BYU’s Spencer Johnson hit a runner to tie the game just before the buzzer, sending the matchup to an extra period.
The Wolverines finally found separation in overtime as they outscored BYU 17-10 in the period. Down two points with 2:43 to play, Aimaq hit a massive three-pointer to retake the lead 60-59 and spark a crushing 15-6 run. The Wolverines made their free throws down the stretch and closed out on shooters as they pulled out the win in overtime, 72-65. The Wolverine defense held the Cougars to just 30.8% shooting in the overtime period and 25% from three. The perimeter defense of Blaze Nield, Harmon and Harding were key in the Wolverines massive upset.
Moving to 7-1 on the season, the Wolverines look to continue their win streak as they host the Yellowstone Christian College Centurions on Friday, Dec. 3. The game tips off at 6 p.m. MT and can be streamed on ESPN+.
Sports Editor and Senior Staff Writer
Junior at Utah Valley University majoring in Communications with emphasis in Journalism and Media