UVU falls to Grand Canyon in second round nail-biter

Utah Valley was eliminated from the WAC Women's Basketball Tournament by Grand Canyon. (Photo courtesy of the Western Athletic Conference)

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LAS VEGAS – The Utah Valley women’s basketball team fell to Grand Canyon in the WAC tournament semifinal with a final score of 57-54.

In a hotly contested matchup the Wolverines came up just short in the final seconds with junior center Josie Williams missing the potential game-tying 3-pointer to beat the buzzer. 

“We tried to get a little flare to the wing for a 3 and they jumped the lane which made it where we didn’t need the flare and my shooter was where we wanted them,” head coach Dan Nielson said. “She stayed committed to actually trying to run the full play and so we ended up in a tough spot…It is what it is [with] players sometimes you’ve got to kind of let them learn and do those things and we’ll learn from it.”

Williams was the Wolverines’ leading scorer, putting up a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Sophomore forward Shay Fano added in 11 points and seven rebounds and sophomore Megan Jensen made an impact off of the bench as well, scoring eight points. The Wolverines closed the game on a 9-2 run but came up just short, with turnovers and poor shooting contributing to the loss.

The Wolverines opened up the game looking to exploit their size advantage in the paint. Both teams battled cold shooting off of the tip with UVU shooting just over 33% from the field. The Wolverines did not attempt a 3-pointer in the first quarter with their emphasis on getting the ball inside to the bigs. 

Heading into the second quarter the Wolverines held a slight rebound advantage 12-8 with Fano and Williams anchoring the paint, combining for 10 of the team’s 12 rebounds in the period. At the end of the first the teams were deadlocked in a back-and-forth affair at 12-12.

Wolverine turnovers began to become an issue in the second quarter. UVU had six turnovers in the second period alone as they struggled to fight through the GCU full-court pressure. Trying to fight the pressure the Wolverines shifted focus from scoring in the paint to making outside shots. Neither team was much of a factor from the three point line in the first half with UVU going 0-for-6 from beyond the arc in the second quarter and holding GCU to 1-of-8 from three. 

The UVU offense as a whole struggled in the second period scoring only seven points in the period. Despite cold shooting the Wolverines trailed by only four with a score of 19-23 as the Wolverines held GCU in check. Going into the halftime break the Wolverines held GCU to 2-for-14 from behind the 3-point line yet shot only 30.4% as a team and had 11 turnovers.

Coming out of halftime the Wolverines looked to get back to their success from the first quarter by getting the ball inside to Williams and Fano. After a quiet second quarter, both bigs were able to find their rhythm. Along with Fano and Williams, Jensen added in six points in the quarter and helped the Wolverines put up a huge 17-point third quarter. 

The Wolverines asserted dominance on the boards, jumping out  to a 36-23 rebounding advantage as well. Despite the big scoring period from the Wolverines, another period with six turnovers limited their ability to pull away from GCU. The Wolverines still had not made any 3-point field goals through three quarters. Going into the final period, UVU and GCU were knotted at 36, setting up a thrilling finish.

In the final period, turnovers really forced the issue for the Wolverines. The Wolverines 3-point shots finally began to fall, with junior guard Kayla Anderson hitting the team’s first made 3 of the game early in the fourth quarter. Despite that, GCU rallied off a daunting 15-4 run in the fourth quarter to take a 10 point advantage over the Wolverines. Late in the period, the Wolverines went on a run of their own still trailing by 10, rallying off nine unanswered points to cut the GCU lead to just one. After GCU made two free-throws to take a three point advantage, Williams was off the mark on the potential game-tying triple as the buzzer sounded.

 The Wolverines loss can be attributed to the team’s 25 turnovers that were forced by the tenacious GCU pressure and poor shooting, as the Wolverines hit on just 15.4% of their 3-point attempts in the game. UVU held the advantage on the boards, out-rebounding GCU 41-29 and held GCU to just 14% shooting from beyond the arc, however, the big run allowed in the fourth quarter and turnovers were the nail in the coffin. 

The Wolverines have now been eliminated from the WAC tournament, however, with a California Baptist win against GCU in the championship game, UVU could potentially be offered the WAC auto qualifying bid for the NCAA tournament as CBU is ineligible for NCAA Tournament play.

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