Men’s Basketball: UVU comeback effort not enough vs Utah

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Photo by Brigham Berthold

SALT LAKE CITY — For the third time in two weeks, the UVU men’s basketball team found themselves facing an uphill climb in the second half of a road game. For the second straight such time, they made a commendable run at it but came up just short. After facing a 14-point deficit with 15 minutes to play at Utah (6-1), UVU (5-3) closed in to take a 78-75 lead with just over two minutes remaining before ultimately falling 87-80.

The comeback was sparked when, down 13 with 12 minutes to play, Jordan Poydras scored nine straight in just over two minutes to cut the deficit to four. Poydras finished with 21. From there, it was a see-saw battle until UVU took the eventual lead before the collapse. Regardless of the final result, these Wolverines showed once again that they can stand toe-to-toe with any foe in the beehive state.

“I’m really proud of our guys. We didn’t play a great game but we competed like we’ve proven so far this season we can compete,” said head coach Mark Pope. “There’s a lot of stuff we left on the table that we could’ve done better. Utah is a great team and they proved it again tonight.”

The Wolverines controlled the opening tip and Zach Nelson found Isaac Neilson under the basket for an easy layup. It was a sight the Utes got used to seeing by the end of the night, as UVU had their way in the pick-and-roll game from start to finish. Neilson was the primary beneficiary of the strategy; he led the Wolverines with a game-high 28 points to go with 13 rebounds, an assist, a block and a steal.

“I look at when I play and have a lot of points, it’s not really so much what I’m doing,” said Neilson. “I’m just putting the ball in the basket. It’s really just our guards do a really good job of getting the ball out and finding me when I’m open.”

The heavy reliance on the post game broke the mold a little for a team that has made its name this season from beyond the arc. UVU had just 16 3-point attempts, a number they’ve routinely broken in single halves multiple times this year.

On the other end of the floor, the Utes had a green light in the lane, which contributed to a 50 percent shooting performance in the first half. The consistent penetration perhaps put more pressure on the perimeter defense as well, as Utah had multiple wide open 3-point attempts, where they shot 40 percent in the first half as well. It was a slow, methodical deconstruction by the Utes that all added up to a five-point halftime Wolverine deficit and the 14-point hole in the second half.

“We’ve just got to be a little tighter with our defensive game plan and we have to be a little more forceful with demanding the pace of the game that we want,” said Pope. “Utah did a nice job tonight slowing us down and keeping us on one side and we can’t allow that.”

UVU returns home to the UCCU Center Saturday for yet another in-state match-up, this time against Utah State University. Tip off is scheduled for 4 p.m. MT.