Physicality, passion and excitement is what basketball is all about, and that is what was seen in the fight between UVU and UMKC on Thursday night, March 14, in Las Vegas.
UVU came out with a hot hand knocking down 5-7 from deep within the first 10 minutes of play. Two of those threes came early on from sophomore guard Isaiah White, another from senior guard Ben Nakwaasah, one from freshman forward Wyatt Lowell and the last from junior guard TJ Washington.
From there the fight really began, the Roos slowly started to cut away at UVU’s lead and really dug in deep with just over four minutes left in the first half. UMKC junior guard Xavier Bishop, who went off for 17 points, four assists and two rebounds, started an 11-0 run for the Roos with a layup and three consecutive free throws. This run ended the half with UMKC up 37-35.
“Our spacing wasn’t great and we weren’t executing our offense with pace, and all that falls on me,” UVU head coach Mark Pope said. “The way we got out of it was our players are just tough dudes, they found a way to make it work.”
The first half bled into the second where the Roos continued to catch UVU off their game and were able to take their lead up to nine points before the Wolverines snapped out of their funk. From there UVU went on a seven-point run and later an eight-point run, both in big effort by sophomore center Richard Harward.
“I’ve got Richard here who had a huge, huge game down the stretch, made unbelievable plays for us, that hadn’t played a game till midway through the season,” Pope said.
Harward came alive in the second half, knocking down 13 of his 15 points as well as grabbing four rebounds. He rallied the team with multiple and-one plays that brought the momentum up enough to clinch the win.
“I’ve got Conner Toolson, who is one of the great competitors, I kid you not, in all of college basketball,” Pope said. “This young man poured his heart and soul out on that court.”
Senior guard Conner Toolson, whose wife is expecting their first child any day, also stepped up in a big way for UVU, contributing 20 points, two steals and one rebound. Three of those points came when UVU desperately needed them, near the three and a half minute mark when Toolson nailed a three from deep, tying the game at 59.
The game came down to the wire until UVU went on an 8-0 run with just over two minutes on the clock. It brought their lead to five points then Harward and Toolson put the nail in the coffin with a layup and two made free throws. This brought the game to an end in favor of UVU, 71-64.
The Wolverines will take on the winner of the matchup between Seattle University and Grand Canyon University on Friday, March 15 at 8:30 p.m. PST. At the half, Seattle led GCU 38-35.
Photo courtesy of Brad Simmons