Tim Castaneda, Sports Writer, @xTIMBOxSLICEx
Despite Zach Nelson scoring in double digits for the third-straight game versus CSU-Bakersfield and Donte Williams adding 15, UVU men’s basketball fell 55-40 to the Roadrunners in the first round of the 2015 WAC men’s basketball tournament on Thursday.
Nelson finished with 12 points and eight rebounds for the Wolverines but was held scoreless during the last 15 minutes of the game much in part to outstanding defense from Kevin Mays, who had the task of guarding Nelson most of the game. Entering the game Nelson had scored 55 points in two meetings with Bakersfield for an average of 27.5 per game.
“Kevin (Mays) is a competitor,” said Nelson. “He’s tough, he’s a fighter and he’s not going to let you have any easy baskets. So every basket’s a battle with Kevin. He did a great job tonight.”
After UVU struggled to get things going at the start of the game as they fell behind 10-0, the team came alive in the second half, starting with a 9-0 run of that gave them a 31-24 lead. During the run, Nelson scored two baskets from underneath the rim paired with his second and final 3-pointer in the game.
“I was proud of our kids. I thought they came out and fought hard with a lot of emotion,” said UVU head coach Dick Hunsaker. “We really scrambled and competed to get back in the game. It appeared early in that second half that we might even be able to take control. But Bakersfield made some plays and really clamped down on us defensively and we weren’t able to score down the stretch. Congratulations to them, they played with a lot of emotion, a lot of energy and a lot of effort.”
Bakersfield weathered the storm, as the team regained the momentum and lead for the rest of the game on a 3-pointer made by Javonte Maynor with 11:19 to go. Following the Maynor basket, Brent Wrapp drew a foul on a circus shot that went in for a 3-point play to give the ‘Runners a 37-33 lead.
The credit for the Bakersfield win goes to the defensive play by Bakersfield in holding UVU to 26 percent shooting on the night, including holding UVU without a basket in the final seven minutes of the game. They also forced 15 turnovers that led to 14 points on the other end of the court.
“I give Bakersfield a lot of credit for that. I thought they turned up the pressure,” said coach Hunsaker. “We weren’t able to complete some shots. They did a good job of protecting the basket for the most part. We got open looks but we weren’t successful with them.”
UVU guard Donte Williams fought hard to keep his team in the game, drawing fouls with his aggressive play on offense, as he scored the last eight Wolverine points of the game. Williams hit five free throws in the final 5 minutes to finish 8-for-11 from the charity stripe to go along with two rebounds, two assists and a steal on the night.
Williams drew a foul on his 3-point attempt that led to three points off free throws to help UVU pull to within four points at 42-38. On the ensuing possession, he made a free throw on the front end of a one-and-one, but missed the second that would have brought the Wolverines to within two.
Bakersfield’s Roadrunners kept their foot on the pedal the rest of the way to finish the game on a 13-1 run, including a dagger that came on a huge basket in the paint from all-WAC first team selection Aly Ahmed to put his team up 47-39 with under two minutes remaining.
Ahmed finished the game with 10 points, seven rebounds and one block to lead Bakersfield to a WAC tournament semifinal matchup against first place New Mexico State on Friday.
The game marks the final game for coach Hunsaker, who is stepping down at the end of June, as UVU basketball head coach after spending the last 13 seasons at the school. He’ll go out with an overall record of 398-232, and 232-159 record in his current position.
UVU finishes the year 11-19, 5-9 in the WAC, and remains in search of the school’s first-ever WAC Tournament victory after its second year in the conference came to an end.