OREM, Utah — After a disappointing result in the season opener at Gonzaga, the Utah Valley University men’s basketball team regrouped in their home opener with an 82-73 win over Idaho State University. The game was played in front of 6,117 fans, which made it the highest attended game in nearly two years. Here are five takeaways from the Wolverines’ first win of the young season.
Home opener jitters?
The atmosphere in the UCCU Center was electric for the first home game of the new men’s basketball season. While the energy of the crowd no doubt played into the team’s impressive performance down the stretch, it also may have had something to do with a little bit of a slow start by the Wolverines. In the first five minutes of the game ISU jumped out to an early lead due to four UVU turnovers and a few badly missed shots.
“Maybe I think we had some pregame jitters,” said Isaac Neilson, who finished the game with a double-double. “But usually that’s good for us because we play fast anyways so that just gives us more energy to go faster.”
Get out and run (A.K.A. Brandon Randolph is fast)
Speaking of going faster, this team can run. UVU outscored ISU in fast break points 7-2. Particularly, when the ball finds its way into the hands of Brandon Randolph on a breakaway chance, there’s just no stopping him. At several moments during the game, Randolph had finished the fast break with a layup seemingly before anyone even knew a change of possession had occurred.
Control the glass
Rebounding will be key for UVU throughout the season and it was a difference maker in both halves of this game. ISU stayed close in the first half almost entirely because they controlled their offensive glass. In the first frame the Bengals got 10 offensive rebounds leading to 12 second chance points, a category in which UVU was outscored 16-6 on the night. The Wolverines did a much better job on the glass in the second half, limiting ISU to just four offensive boards.
“It’s a focus more than anything,” said head coach Mark Pope. “It was mostly emphasis and kind of our guys taking on the challenge.”
Shoot, shoot and shoot some more
28 of UVU’s 62 shots taken were 3-point attempts. That means 45 percent of the time that the ball left the hands of a Wolverine on its way to the basket, it left from beyond the arc. For a team that struggles to hit from range that may be a problem. However, that problem did not present itself Wednesday as UVU shot nearly 40 percent from three. We all know that three is greater than two, and apparently Pope’s Wolverines have taken that to heart.
The NJCAA MVP can play
Conner Toolson entered UVU coming off of a title run with Salt Lake Community College in which he was named the NJCAA championship game MVP. With just over eight minutes remaining in the game and UVU trailing 58-56, Toolson chased down ISU’s Brandon Boyd as he was looking for a layup in the lane. Toolson rose up and swatted the layup away to Jordan Poydras before running to the other end of the floor and nailing a 3-point shot to put the Wolverines up by one. It was a play that completely swung the momentum of the game.
“I saw the guy driving down the lane,” said Toolson. “You see LeBron get all those chase-down blocks on the weak side so that’s what I was thinking and lucky enough I got my fingers on it and it went the other way.”
Toolson finished his first home game as a Wolverine with 23 points, eight rebounds, three steals, one assist and the block.
I grew up on a farm in Burley, Idaho, but I’ve always had an intense love of sports. I’m studying journalism in an attempt to turn my love into a career. I’m a huge Utah Jazz, Tennessee Titans, and San Jose Sharks fan. If it’s a sport, I’ll watch it.