Photo by Brigham Berthold
At the outset of the men’s college basketball season, word circulated that UVU head coach Mark Pope had gathered a roster with a lot of new faces. In the starting lineup four players would be transfers, new to the UVU hardwood. Three of them transferred from within the state. Despite the newness of the lineup, these talented transfers could help the Wolverines evolve into a force in the state of Utah.
UVU fulfilled its mantra to “shock the world” early on this season. The Wolverines marched into the Marriott Center and beat the BYU Cougars 114-101 in a game that ultimately showed the potential of this new squad, should they be able to put it all together on the court. They set a Marriott Center record for most made 3-point shots in a single game with 18. The win elevated UVU’s early season record to 4-1, with the only loss coming at No. 5 Gonzaga. Pope was excited about the early success, but not fooled, insisting that his team had a mountain of work in front of them.
Pope’s mindset was proven correct over the following weeks. The Wolverines went 1-5 in their next six games, with only two of those games in the familiar confines of the UCCU Events Center. They were able to pull together to go 3-1 over the last four nonconference tilts to finish that portion of the schedule 8-7.
“It’s hard to quantify how difficult [nonconference play] is,” said Pope following the team’s final nonconference game, a 102-63 win over the University of Antelope Valley. “We played nine games on the road, and these guys came out of that mess with a winning record and some great wins. We certainly got exposed a lot too.”
Many of those exposing moments for UVU came in the final minutes of close games against in-state opponents. After the BYU win, the Wolverines went 0-3 in their remaining in-state games, but each game was close down the stretch. In those clutch moments, the lack of team chemistry was visible. The execution lacked at times, but it gave the players a lot to work on.
“I think we’re still learning each other, how each other moves and how each other plays,” said Jordan Poydras after the team’s one-point overtime loss to Utah State. “It’s not an excuse. We lost the game, but I just think that it’s going to take us more time to play together and get the results we want.”
“I wish it were a perfect trend, but it’s not,” said Pope of the team’s development. “It’s always kind of a zig here and a zag there. It’s two steps forward, one step back. That’s kind of how growing works.”
The growing that the Wolverines did during nonconference play will be instrumental if they plan on making any noise in their WAC schedule. UVU’s struggles in the crunch-time losses early on should prove a nice base for the team’s chemistry. They will continue to grow together throughout the season, but now that conference play has started the hope is that there will be more steps forward than backward.
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.