Men’s basketball: Five takeaways from the loss to Utah

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Photo by Brigham Berthold

SALT LAKE CITY—Despite a strong fight down the stretch, the UVU men’s basketball team was unable to finish another comeback against in-state rival Utah on Tuesday. Here are five takeaways from the game at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.

Need those free throws

UVU has not been fantastic at getting to the free-throw line of late. Tuesday was no exception to this trend and it ended up being costly in the end. Through eight games, UVU is averaging just over 23 free throws a game, but shot just 13 in each the losses against Washington State and Utah. If UVU can get at least 20 attempts per game from the charity stripe, it will nearly guarantee a win for the Wolverines. The other issue is making free throws. The Wolverines are shooting a shade under 70 percent from the free-throw line at 69.2 percent, which puts them at No. 170 in the nation. They’ll need to start sinking those free chances to complete 3-point plays and close out games.

More possessions, more tempo

The way UVU plays basketball is at a lightning pace. Everybody knows it. The more possessions this team can get the better off it will be. Head coach Mark Pope has said his team is best when it is getting upward of 90-plus possessions per game, which is where UVU was in the 114-101 win over BYU. Utah managed to slow the pace of the game Tuesday and held UVU to just 75 possessions with an average time of possession of 15 seconds. Multiple times down the floor the Utah defense took away first and second options of the plays that were run and UVU was forced to reset plays two and three times.

“We have to be a little bit more forceful with demanding the pace of the game that we want. Utah did a nice today of slowing us down and keeping us on one side, and we can’t allow that,” said Pope.

Despite the slow pace, UVU managed efficiency through the entire game and shot 49.2 percent from the field.

There’s a party in the paint, and everyone’s invited

Isaac Neilson scored UVU’s first nine points, all of which came in the paint. UVU ended the night with a season-high 46 points in the paint, most of which came from Neilson’s game-high 28 points.

“All credit goes to the guards for just finding me. I mean, the help side when they would double team Zach or they didn’t really have very many fills on defense so I was able to find myself open,” said Neilson.

However, the paint party played right into Utah’s defensive game plan as the Utes were willing to trade two points for three all night long.

Stops need to translate to points

Midway through the second half, UVU cut into a 14-point Utah lead as Jordan Poydras put the Wolverines within four with nine points in just over a minute and a half. UVU was unable to close the gap and lingered with a four-to-six-point deficit for the next eight minutes due to an inability to capitalize on stops. Despite the ability to stop Utah on the defensive end, the stop was never able to translate into points on the offensive end of the floor. As a result, both teams primarily traded baskets until the Wolverines made a push and briefly took a three-point lead with 2:04 to play. Utah’s Tyler Rawson promptly tied the game up with a corner 3-pointer and Utah never trailed again.


Down 14 after a Kyle Kuzma free throw with 15:01 to play, UVU went to work on a comeback. The Wolverines never gave up on the game and chipped away by taking what Utah gave them. Brandon Randolph worked the pick-and-roll with Neilson at the top of the key, while Poydras hit from downtown. The combination gave UVU a three-point lead, but couldn’t close out the game.

“Well when it comes down to it, it’s all about heart,” said Neilson. “When we see that we’re down, we know that we’re going to come back and we’re going to give it all we’ve got. So all of our guys are really good about giving their best effort and working as hard as we can to get the victory. Basketball in college is very hard and you have nights like these, but you grow from it.”

The most difficult portion of UVU’s schedule is complete. It has made it through with some bumps and bruises, but the ability the Wolverines have shown to get up when knocked down will pay dividends in conference play.