Poor free throw shooting dooms Wolverines in 70-62 loss at Weber State

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The Weber State Wildcats proved too much for the Utah Valley men’s basketball team on Saturday, Jan. 2, as UVU fell 70-62 at the Dee Events Center in Ogden, Utah.

The Wolverines returned to the hardwood on Saturday for the first time in 18 days after three games had to be canceled due to COVID-19 testing and contact tracing protocols. With the loss, UVU falls to 2-5 on the season as WSU improves to 4-3.

Head coach Mark Madsen said he doesn’t believe the 18-day layoff between games was a factor in the loss. “We brought the guys back on Dec. 27, we’ve been in the gym and we’ve been working. I wish I could say that had a major impact. I can’t put it on that, we have to be better.”

UVU was content to let the Wildcats shoot the 3 early on in the first half — at one point WSU was only 1-of-10 from behind the arc. The Wolverines weren’t much better from long range, though, with only one 3-pointer in the half. Senior guard Jamison Overton and sophomore center Fardaws Aimaq made up the majority of UVU’s offense, each would finish the half with 13 points. Aimaq had yet another double-double by halftime with 12 rebounds. Junior guard Blaze Nield added four points with the team’s only 3-pointer.

Overton returned to the court after missing the previous few games for the Wolverines, marking the first time all season the team has been at full strength.

The teams battled back and forth for the entire half, and neither team led by more than three points. Overton hit a layup with three seconds on the clock to tie the game at 30 heading into the intermission.

Graduate forward Evan Cole picked up two early fouls and played only four minutes in the half.

“It’s hard to sit a whole half and then get back in rhythm,” said Madsen. “I think by sitting him so much, that affected his rhythm a bit.”

The second half was similarly slow to start and WSU led 44-41 with 10 minutes to go. UVU eventually grabbed a 50-49 lead with 6:45 left but the Wildcats answered immediately with a 3-point bucket. 

With just under four minutes remaining the Wolverines made another surge. Overton dribbled inside the 3-point line, spun and dished to Aimaq for a layup to pull within three, 56-53. On the other end, Aimaq came up with a blocked shot in the key then got the ball to sophomore guard Le’Tre Darthard for an easy fastbreak layup. The Wolverines couldn’t make similar runs down the final stretch on their way to a fourth straight loss.

“We made a lot of big plays but we have to be able to make those big plays in the key situations. We did not do that tonight,” said Madsen. “We have to get better at making the game-winning play.”

UVU had an historically bad night from the free throw line, shooting 12-of-27. Aimaq had the most free throw attempts and only shot 4-of-12. “We’re not going to win games shooting that way from the free throw line,” Madsen said. 

Sophomore guard Jaden McClanahan — who has averaged two points per game this season — was a “bright spot” for UVU in the second half with 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting. McClanahan ran the point on one of the final possessions of the game and seemed confident in his expanded role in the second half.

Aimaq finished the game with 18 points and had 20 rebounds, tying his own single-game record set earlier this season. Overton led the team with 19 points. Junior guard Trey Woodbury had a quiet scoring night but added four rebounds, four steals, three assists, and two blocks.

Although not the start anyone wanted in the new year, Madsen was optimistic and spoke highly of the team’s commitment going forward. 

“We haven’t practiced together as a group very much at all this year… but the chemistry is going to develop,” he said. “Our guys have always given tremendous effort. We’ve had five or six quarantines this year — that doesn’t impact what happened tonight — but I think there’s an excitement with the team that we can get better. We’ll build on it and be a better team because of it. 

The Wolverines begin conference play next weekend as they host the California Baptist Lancers on Friday, Jan. 8 and Saturday, Jan. 9. The Lancers are 3-2 on the season, with an overtime loss at USC on Nov. 25, 2020. Both games tip off at 6 p.m. MDT and will be streamed on the WAC Digital Network and aired on ESPN 960 AM.