2016-17 season marked by historic highs, consistent struggles

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Photo by Brigham Berthold

The story of the 2016-17 UVU basketball season can be largely defined as historical moments of achievement with stretches of adversity in between. The first high point was the 27-point comeback victory over Denver University on Nov. 23. The win marked the biggest deficit overcome in Wolverine basketball history; it was just five points shy of tying the biggest comeback in NCAA history.

Three days after the Denver game, the Wolverines went into the Marriott Center and shocked BYU with a dominating 114-101 statement win. They sank the most 3-point shots in a single game in Marriott Center history, going 18-of-37 from beyond the arc.

Ultimately, UVU was unable to pull off any other wins within the state, losing to the University of Utah, Utah State and Weber State by seven, one and eight points respectively. The games were all close enough, though, to put the state on notice that UVU was surpassing their historical little brother status.

After its early-season successes, the team hit a stumbling block in the following months. From the BYU game to the beginning of WAC play, UVU went just 2-6 against Division I schools.

The Wolverines found no answers at the beginning of conference play either. They played to a 2-6 record through the first eight games against WAC opponents, which included handing Chicago State University its only conference win of the season in what was the worst loss in Mark Pope’s young tenure. Most of the close losses were characterized by the Wolverines’ inability to finish games after holding late leads.

UVU managed to end the regular season with some momentum when it snapped New Mexico State University’s 40-game conference home winning streak with a win in Las Cruces. It was NMSU’s only home loss of the season. The Wolverines proceeded to win their final two games of the season and also picked up a first round win over Seattle University in the WAC Tournament.

In the conference semifinal game against No. 1 seed Cal State Bakersfield, the season-long issue again reared its head when UVU was unable to hold onto an eight-point lead with 2:40 remaining. The Roadrunners finished regulation on an 11-3 run and the game turned into the first quadruple overtime contest in WAC Tournament history. UVU came just one point shy of a berth in the conference final. Despite the heartbreaking loss, Pope held his head high when reflecting on his team’s performance throughout the season.

“It’s been a really special group. They kept finding moments where they could make history… I think that comes from our leadership,” said Pope. “We started out the first half of the season searching for a voice to step up and kind of lead us.”

To no surprise for Pope, it was the seniors who came through with that leadership. They led not only in the locker room but in key moments on the court as well. Ivory Young was the team’s leading scorer in the landmark win on NMSU’s home court. Jordan Poydras shot 50 percent from the 3-point line and tallied a career-high 23 points in the comeback in Denver. Andrew Bastien stepped up and played a season-high 38 minutes in the WAC semifinal heartbreaker after Isaac Neilson fouled out.

“Our story doesn’t get to end the way we wanted it to and that is one of the painful things about sports,” said Pope. “The pride that these guys showed…is going to grow every day for the rest of their lives as they come back and recognize that they were such huge players in laying the foundation for what we’re trying to become.”

Following the WAC Tournament, UVU was invited to participate in the College Basketball Invitational postseason tournament. After wins over Georgia Southern and Rice University, the season officially concluded for the Wolverines with a 74-68 loss to Wyoming in the CBI semifinal.

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