Photo by Zach Burkart
UVU’s match-up against New Mexico State Feb. 15 was a huge indication of where the Wolverines fit into the WAC. The Aggies came to town and were looking to prove that they deserve to be ranked first in the conference, and held their heads high knowing that they had an undefeated conference record. UVU’s last match-up with NMSU was one of their biggest losses of the season, and just barely came off of a loss against Kansas City 77-70. Entering the building for NMSU was Jemerrio Jones, who had three straight games with 20 rebounds.
“This New Mexico State team is a top 25 team. They’re a great team — they’re one of the top defensive teams in the country. They’re rebounding monsters,” said Coach Mark Pope.
The first half was extremely close as both teams played stellar defense as it seemed every shot was going to come at a price. On multiple occasions, UVU’s defense was strong enough to cause shot clock violations on shots thrown up in desperation. The Wolverines would play tough defense, but that wouldn’t stop the Aggies giving them some trouble.
Late in the first, NMSU went on a 7-0 run before being stopped by a Jerrelle DeBerry three-pointer. UVU would end up going up on a run of their own that would keep them in the game. A huge performance came from Zach Nelson, who hit a momentum changing three-pointer and ended up finishing with seven points in the first. Brandon Randolph also played a huge role, finishing the half with the game leading 11 points. The Wolverines collectively shot 55 percent from downtown and 58 percent overall, and lead at the half 41-37.
NMSU and UVU went back-and-forth to start the second, keeping the game close and the intensity at a very high level. Every possession was a battle, and the lead never seemed to advance passed a few points. Again, DeBerry would hit a momentum shifting three to give the Wolverines a 57-55 lead with 11:40 left in the game.
With 6:25 remaining the game was tied at 66 as a controversial out of bounds call went the Aggies way. The crowd erupted with disbelief, and the tension inside UCCU continued to rise. Both teams came out of a timeout looking to close out the game — the question on everyone’s mind being which team would come out on top.
Kenneth Ogbe set the tone with a huge three pointer from the corner to give UVU the lead 71-68. Connor Toolson would put up a deep three of his own to extend that lead 74-68 and everything seemed to be going UVU’s way. Ogbe put up a huge layup, pushing the lead to eight points. The UCCU crowd exploded with noise as NMSU took a desperation time-out.
“Listen, it’s not going to be one guy making hero plays that’s going to save us right? It’s going to be us working hard to make plays for each other to do it together. That’s going to help us when we’re a man down — and the guys did a beautiful job of doing that,” said Pope.
The game came down to the wire with NMSU’s AJ Harris hitting a fantastic three pointer to put the game at 83-79, but nothing could stop UVU. A huge block earlier from Isaac Neilson and a game clinching three from Ogbe secured winning the rivalry match for the Wolverines. To add to the damage, Ogbe threw down a hard slam-dunk — catching a great fast break pass from Jake Toolson. Ogbe finished with the game high, slotting 22 points onto the stat sheet. UVU made their dream into a reality, beating the top team in the conference 86-79. UVU limited Jones to only six rebounds and ended his streak of getting 20 rebounds per game.
“We went all out today. We gave 100 percent, and it just felt good to come in the locker room and to know that you gave it your all,” Ogbe said.
“So many times, the team that plays harder and tougher — so many times they win. There is some real truth to that,” said Pope.