The Wolverines were able to play in front of their home crowd again with an invitation to the College Basketball Invitational tournament. The first game of the tournament took place at the UCCU center in Orem on Tuesday, March 19, against California Southern University, Northridge.
After losing to Grand Canyon University in the WAC semifinal game, UVU was hungry to play some postseason basketball. That hunger might have been hard to see after watching the first few minutes against CSUN. The Wolverines let the Matadors go on a 7-0 run early on to give UVU a scare, and found themselves down by as much as six points. UVU would rally back going on three separate runs of seven, eight and 10 points.
Junior center Baylee Steele plowed a path for the Wolverines, scoring 15 points in the first half. Two of those points came from an alleyoop dunk assisted by senior guard Ben Nakwaasah with just over five minutes to play in the first half. Steele would end the night with an impressive double-double with 19 points and 16 rebounds. The Matadors fought their way back before the buzzer sounded at the half and brought the deficit to only four points in favor of UVU.
“You’ll never find me not playing hard,” Steele said. “I was just playing hard, that all it was really and it helped us tonight.”
Second half was an all out battle between the Wolverines and Matadors, CSUN got within one point of UVU several times and fell to as many as 12 points midway through the half. Junior guard Jake Toolson and sophomore center Richard Harward showed big performances in the second half with 11 points and a huge blocked shot. Toolson came away with 12 points, shooting 5-6 from the charity stripe. UVU shot an incredible 37 free throws the whole game, making 29 of them compared to the Matadors 13-20.
“These first (postseason) game are so hard because you just got your heart broken,” UVU head coach Mark Pope said. “Couldn’t be happier for my guys and we are excited to see who we play next and where we get to go.”
Two names that stood out for the Matadors were sophomore guard Terrell Gomez and freshman forward Diane Lamine. Gomez went off for 22 points and three assists while Lamine put down 27 points, four assists and seven rebounds, both players put up double digit points in the second half.
The biggest takeaway from the game would be the combination of Matador defense and Wolverine sloppy offense. UVU turned the ball over 20 times and gave the Matadors 27 points off of those turnovers, 20 of which came from 16 CSUN steals. In comparison, UVU forced seven turnovers, three of those being steals.
“There was nothing pretty about (this game) except for the score at the end and the W,” Pope said.
The game ended like many other UVU home games in winning fashion, with the Wolverines up 92-84. The Matadors showed some effort and gave them a scare by coming back to being down by four points. UVU shut down any chance of a Matador win with four consecutive, unanswered free throws by Harward and senior guard Hayden Schenck.
“Every game you win you find a little more juice, you get a little closer to accomplishing something,” Pope said. “If we were to win a CBI championship I would get the biggest banner ever made in the history of the world. It would be too big to fit in the UCCU, I might drape it over the UCCU as CBI champions, because that’s something we’ve never done.”
The Wolverines now await to see who their opponent will be for their next game on March 25. The possible opponents will either be Stony Brook or South Florida. That game will take place on Wednesday, March 20.
Photo courtesy of UVU Athletics