Photos by Mykah Heaton
OREM — UVU was unable to slow down first place California State University Bakersfield in the UCCU Events Center Thursday night, dropping the game 80-71.
Matt Smith, the CSUB (18-7, 9-1) forward, scored 18 points for a game high in the Runners’ seventh straight victory. In the second half, Smith threw down a two-handed dunk with Wolverine defenders in his face and was fouled to put an exclamation point on his performance.
Damiyne Durham had 16 points of his own to complement Smith’s. He was red hot in the first half, scoring 11 points in the first 10 minutes of the game for the Runners.
“If you went top to bottom and if you asked every coach in the league right now, they would probably say Matt Smith… I think unanimously he’d be the MVP of this league right now,” head coach Mark Pope said.
UVU (11-14, 3-7) came out cold as ice to begin the game, missing its first five attempts from the field. Just before Conner Toolson scored a layup seven minutes into the game for its first field goal, the Wolverines found themselves down 11-3.
They had cut the lead to three with 2:44 to play in the first half when a costly turnover led to a layup in transition for Bakersfield. The Runners then went on a 9-0 run to end the first half, including a five-point swing when Jaylin Airington nailed a 3-pointer and Isaac Neilson slammed the ball, receiving a technical foul.
“We just never could get over the hump. Man, I wish we were like them right now. They’re really good.”
The second half seemed to be a different story as the Wolverines were successful on 47 percent of their shooting attempts beyond the arc. Toolson had three and Jordan Poydras had two of his own by the end of the game as they finished with 14 and 15 points, respectively.
Coming out of timeout with 7:33 on the clock Jared Stutzman drained a ball from deep to put UVU within four points of Bakersfield. The Runners went on another morale-killing 8-0 run, taking a 12-point lead with 4:50 to play, forcing Pope to use a timeout.
It got ugly for the Wolverines the rest of the way as they failed to score another field goal for five minutes until Brandon Randolph dunked the ball with 2:24 remaining in the game. A few 3-pointers in garbage time made the score closer than it was.
Bakersfield seemed to have an answer each time UVU tried to take control of the game, usually getting penetration into the paint leading to a layup. A signal being the 16-point disparity in points scored in the paint between the teams as CSUB had 38 to the Wolverines’ 22.
Forward Zach Nelson returned to action after missing four games with an ailing ankle. While clearly not 100 percent, he played 19 minutes and gave UVU an added presence inside on defense. Something UVU has been lacking in his absence.
“The most important thing is how does Zach feel tomorrow,” Said Pope. “It was nice to have him on the floor. He’s a great kid and he’s a fighter, we just have to figure out how he’s going to feel.”
UVU will play host to Grand Canyon University Saturday with tipoff set for 7 p.m. MST in the Events Center.
“It’s actually the best thing in the world that we have a game in 48 hours so we don’t have to sit on this frustration for that long,” Pope said. “I’ll watch this game film tonight and hopefully not do too much physical harm to myself and then we have got to move on.”
Ty Bianucci is a life-long fan of the San Francisco Giants, 49ers and Golden State Warriors who started on the sports beat for The Review, but now contributes investigative stories. He, along with two of his colleagues, were awarded the Sunshine Award in 2018 by the Society of Professional Journalists.