In this new weekly column, we will be recapping the previous week in Utah Valley sports and highlighting key players and moments throughout the week. This week, we’re focusing on a record-setting performance for men’s basketball and the impressive start for the women’s basketball team.
A Tale of Two Teams
The women’s basketball team played only their second game of the season on Thursday, Dec. 10 — an 84-43 thrashing of William Jessup. The game was added to the schedule only three days earlier, and capped off three straight days of games for WJU. Although WJU was far outmatched and disadvantaged due to their schedule, this was an impressive win for a UVU team that has had their fair share of adversity so far this season.
The Wolverines have already had four games canceled due to COVID-19 testing and contact tracing protocols, including a would-be season opener at Utah, a road game against Idaho State, and home games versus UNLV and Montana State. The WJU addition helped bridge what would have been a 17-day gap between their only game played (a 58-47 win over Southern Utah on Saturday, Nov. 28) and their next scheduled game on Tuesday, Dec. 15.
Following the win over WJU, head coach Dan Nielson said the team had only been able to practice four times in the past 27 days due to coronavirus protocols. The team was excited, to say the least, about taking the court against any opponent — and who can blame them?
“It was huge, we needed to play against somebody else,” said Nielson. “I thought we did a better job of getting into the flow of things. To get on the court before two big in-state games next week was big.”
UVU’s depth was on full display against WJU, and it bodes well for the future of this team. Eleven players played for more than 10 minutes, and 10 of those played for more than 15. All 11 players scored and grabbed at least one rebound, and all but one recorded an assist. It was a team effort in the truest sense — one they will need to replicate this week if they hope to knock off Brigham Young.
The men’s basketball team has been developing a different kind of consistency — and not the kind you want. The Wolverines lost by 10 points against SUU and lost by five points against Wyoming. Last season, UVU lost 11 games by six points or fewer, and another five that were within 10 points. Only four of their wins came within such a margin. While they have shown flashes of brilliance, the Wolverines seem to be continuing the trend of losing close games. If they hope to compete in the Western Athletic Conference this year, they will need to start finding ways to win close games — and fast.
Regarding depth and consistent scoring, the men’s team seems to be a polar opposite of the women. In the loss to UW on Saturday, Dec. 12, four players had double-digit points (27, 23, 19, 12), but the rest of the team combined for only seven points. You read that correctly. One had three, two had two, and three were scoreless. Granted, the team was without their leading scorer, Jamison Overton, but the same phenomenon has been present all season. The scoring disparity has already proven to be unsustainable, and if the Wolverines can’t find a way to redistribute their scoring looks, they could be in for a long season.
Player of the Week – Fardaws Aimaq, Men’s Basketball
The sophomore center has been on a tear so far this season, more than filling the hole left by Emmanuel Olojakpoke. Aimaq has proven to be a force in the paint offensively and defensively. He made a splash in the Wolverines’ season opener, scoring 24 points and grabbing 18 boards. Aimaq has been perhaps the one bright spot of consistency for the Wolverines and boasts a double-double in every game save one.
Aimaq’s record-breaking performance against UW included a career-high 27 points and 20 rebounds, breaking the program record for rebounds in a single game. He ranks first in the nation in total rebounds (78) and second in rebounds per game (15.6) — behind only senior forward Elyjah Goss of IUPUI, who has 16 total boards in one game played. No other player in the top 100 for total rebounds comes close to Aimaq’s per game average, the next highest averages only 13.
Head coach Mark Madsen is well aware of the talents of his big man and called Aimaq’s potential “limitless.” Only a sophomore, Aimaq has a lot of time left to improve his game and has already established himself as a can’t-miss player for the Wolverines.
In Their Own Words
“I saw it bank in and I said to myself, you’ve got to be kidding me. We have to be so good that it doesn’t matter if somebody banks in a three. We have to be so good that it takes that margin of error out.”Men’s basketball head coach, Mark Madsen
Madsen’s reaction to an improbable 3-pointer by SUU guard Tevian Jones just about sums it up. Jones threw up a prayer as the shot clock expired and somehow managed to bank it in, putting the Thunderbirds up 3-0. Although the shot occurred in the first minute of the game, it was emblematic of the night Jones would have, as he finished the game with 33 points.
The Wolverines played admirably in stretches but ultimately fell prey to Jones’ herculean effort. In the end, they just couldn’t go the distance.
Men’s basketball plays at Utah on Tuesday, Dec. 15 at 5 p.m. MST on the Pac-12 Network, then returns home to host Idaho State on Saturday, Dec. 19 at 2 p.m. MST on the WAC Digital Network. ESPN 960 AM will carry the radio broadcasts for both games.
The Utes are 2-1 this year with wins over Washington and Idaho State. Their one loss came last Saturday at the hands of BYU. Idaho State is 1-4, their one win came last week against Bethesda College.
The women’s basketball team hopes to carry over their consistent play into another week as they play at BYU on Tuesday, Dec. 15 at 3 p.m. MST at BYU and then on Friday, Dec. 18 at 12 p.m. MST at SUU. Their games will be broadcast on BYUtv and PlutoTV, respectively.
The Cougars are 3-1, with wins over Louisiana State, Utah State and Montana State, their one loss came against Washington. SUU is 2-1, they lost to the Wolverines in Orem last month.
Former Wolverine, Jake Toolson, made his NBA debut with the Utah Jazz in a preseason victory over the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night. Toolson played for four minutes off the bench and shot 0-for-1 from the field. During his two seasons with UVU, Toolson averaged 13.5 points per game and shot 52% from the field.
Toolson signed an Exhibit 10 contract with Utah on Nov. 25, which means he will be paid the league minimum for one season and could be moved to the team’s G-League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars, if he is waived from the team during camp.
Graduate forward Evan Cole made his debut for the Wolverines last week, after missing the first three games due to a severe case of COVID-19. Cole was perhaps the crowning jewel of the offseason — a talented and athletic transfer from Georgia Tech with a lot of playing experience. His presence was a welcome addition for a team that is still trying to find a sense of identity and he should contribute to a formidable frontcourt alongside Aimaq.
As Cole’s experience shows, coronavirus is serious — even for an athlete in the prime of their life — so please wear your mask, wash your hands and practice social distancing, and we will see you next week.
Bridger Beal-Cvetko is a senior at Utah Valley University where he is studying journalism. He has been with the UVU Review since 2019, where he has covered the UVU men’s basketball team and the softball team during his time as Sports Editor. Bridger has also worked as a producer for ESPN 960 AM. Aside from sports, Bridger is an ardent cinephile, and loves reading fantasy and science fiction novels.