In a rematch of the 2018 WAC semifinals, UVU and GCU faced off to see who would make it to the WAC finals to play New Mexico State. The matchup took place on Friday, March 15 at The Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

The Wolverines started off the night in scoring fashion, as their first five points came from the charity stripe. Three of those free throws came from senior guard Conner Toolson who was fouled shooting from downtown. From there UVU would miss three straight shots from behind the arc, before junior guard Jake Toolson knocked down a jumper for two.

The battle started from there as both teams fought back and forth with several lead changes. UVU junior center Baylee Steele started an 11-point streak with a layup and a fastbreak dunk. Senior guard Ben Nakwaasah finished the streak with a huge shot from deep to put the Wolverines up 28-24 with just over eight minutes to play in the first half.

“My guys put their heart and soul out on the floor and we just came out a little bit shy,” UVU head coach Mark Pope said. “These three seniors (Conner Toolson, Ben Nakwaasah and Hayden Schenck) came here and nobody thought we were anything and they’ve created something really special.”

The second half was a lot of the same style of play. The Lopes came out with intense defense and held Jake Toolson and sophomore guard Isaiah White scoreless the whole half. Both players finished off the night with a low, seven points.

GCU junior guard Carlos Johnson couldn’t miss, making six of his eight shots from downtown and contributing 21 of the Lopes 40 points. He also impressed from the charity stripe, making 4-4 there and shot 6-10 from the field. Johnson ended the night with 35 points, a season high. He also added nine rebounds and four assists.

“These guys right here are the core of our team,” Pope said referring to his seniors. “Ben is our point guard and has grown so much over the course of the season. Conner you know has been through all of these battles before and Hayden Schenck just spills his guts all over the court.”

Nakwaasah finished his WAC career with eight points, six of those coming from deep, four assists and a steal. Toolson finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and a steal while Schenck added a rebound.

“It just feels good to play with your brothers on the court and to play for a coach that cares for you as much as he cares for his family,” Nakwaasah said.

Two big contributors from the Wolverines roster came from the center position. Sophomore center Richard Harward, who came off a big night against UMKC, put up 12 points, nine rebounds and a block, while Steele added another 12 points.

“What we’ve built at UVU in the last four years is one of the best in the country, no other D1 has done what we’ve done,” Schenck said. “It all starts with the core and that is family, and that why this is so hard to swallow.”

The game ultimately came down to the final three and a half minutes of play when UVU was down by one point. The GCU defense ended up being the demise of the Wolverines as the last five possessions only brought two points for UVU.

“Everyone looks at UVU now and they know that if they are playing UVU they are playing a good team,” Schenck said.

The game came down to the wire with GCU up by three with 22 seconds left. It ultimately ended in favor of the Lopes with a score of 78-74, bringing tournament play to an end for UVU, beating them for the second time in two years in the WAC semifinal game. Grand Canyon will go on to play the WAC final game against New Mexico State on March 16 at 7:00 p.m. PST.

In a rematch of the 2018 WAC semifinals, UVU and GCU faced off to see who would make it to the WAC finals to play New Mexico State. The matchup took place on Friday, March 15 at The Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

The Wolverines started off the night in scoring fashion, as their first five points came from the charity stripe. Three of those free throws came from senior guard Conner Toolson who was fouled shooting from downtown. From there UVU would miss three straight shots from behind the arc, before junior guard Jake Toolson knocked down a jumper for two.

The battle started from there as both teams fought back and forth with several lead changes. UVU junior center Baylee Steele started an 11-point streak with a layup and a fastbreak dunk. Senior guard Ben Nakwaasah finished the streak with a huge shot from deep to put the Wolverines up 28-24 with just over eight minutes to play in the first half.

“My guys put their heart and soul out on the floor and we just came out a little bit shy,” UVU head coach Mark Pope said. “These three seniors (Conner Toolson, Ben Nakwaasah and Hayden Schenck) came here and nobody thought we were anything and they’ve created something really special.”

The second half was a lot of the same style of play. The Lopes came out with intense defense and held Jake Toolson and sophomore guard Isaiah White scoreless the whole half. Both players finished off the night with a low, seven points.

GCU junior guard Carlos Johnson couldn’t miss, making six of his eight shots from downtown and contributing 21 of the Lopes 40 points. He also impressed from the charity stripe, making 4-4 there and shot 6-10 from the field. Johnson ended the night with 35 points, a season high. He also added nine rebounds and four assists.

“These guys right here are the core of our team,” Pope said referring to his seniors. “Ben is our point guard and has grown so much over the course of the season. Conner you know has been through all of these battles before and Hayden Schenck just spills his guts all over the court.”

Nakwaasah finished his WAC career with eight points, six of those coming from deep, four assists and a steal. Toolson finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and a steal while Schenck added a rebound.

“It just feels good to play with your brothers on the court and to play for a coach that cares for you as much as he cares for his family,” Nakwaasah said.

Two big contributors from the Wolverines roster came from the center position. Sophomore center Richard Harward, who came off a big night against UMKC, put up 12 points, nine rebounds and a block, while Steele added another 12 points.

“What we’ve built at UVU in the last four years is one of the best in the country, no other D1 has done what we’ve done,” Schenck said. “It all starts with the core and that is family, and that why this is so hard to swallow.”

The game ultimately came down to the final three and a half minutes of play when UVU was down by one point. The GCU defense ended up being the demise of the Wolverines as the last five possessions only brought two points for UVU.

“Everyone looks at UVU now and they know that if they are playing UVU they are playing a good team,” Schenck said.

The game ended in favor of the Lopes with a score of 78-74, bringing tournament play to an end for UVU, beating them for the second time in two years in the WAC semifinal game. Grand Canyon will go on to play the WAC final game against New Mexico State on March 16 at 7:00 p.m. PST.

Photo courtesy of Blanca De La Cruz