Utah Valley was unable to overcome 21 turnovers as they lost to the Utah Utes 75-67 on Tuesday, Dec. 15 in Salt Lake City.
With the loss, UVU’s record for the season now stands at 2-4, while the Utes are 3-1.
“It absolutely was [a step back],” said head coach Mark Madsen about the team’s turnover woes. “We had some errant passes. We had some player controlled fouls. Those can be addressed, we’ll continue to work on it.”
The Wolverines and Utes traded buckets for most of the first half, with neither team exhibiting a clear advantage. The referees were quick with their whistles, though, as both teams accrued at least 11 personal fouls — with multiple offensive fouls on both sides. Sophomore center Fardaws Aimaq was on the bench for most of the half after picking up a pair of fouls.
Utah’s defense was consistently a problem for UVU as the Wolverines were forced into poor shots late in the shot clock on multiple possessions. When he was on the floor, Aimaq was a constant target for double teams and the Utes successfully limited his impact on the game.
In the absence of Aimaq, sophomore center Tim Fuller saw more time on the floor than he has all season — scoring five points and grabbing five boards in the first half. Fuller snapped a 10-0 scoring run by the Utes when he grabbed an offensive rebound after his own miss for a putback layup.
“Daws was still able to battle. He was the focal point of their defense,” Madsen said. “That is an adjustment, as his play continues to expand and advance forward, teams will try to come up with different schemes for that.”
The Utes led 41-35 at the break, as UVU allowed 13 points off of turnovers in the first half and gave the ball up 10 times, compared to five turnovers by Utah. Graduate forward Evan Cole led the Wolverines with 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting.
“He’s fearless, he attacks the basket, he wants the ball in key situations,” Madsen said. “I look for Evan to continue to have games like this.”
UVU needed a spark to start the second half but instead they continued to be plagued by turnovers and the Utes were quick to take advantage. On the defensive end, the Wolverines switched to a 1-3-1 trap defense in an effort to pressure Utah’s offense but the Utes still managed to get good looks in the paint and steadily added to their lead.
With just under 14 minutes left to play, Utah led by a score of 54-39. As has been the case in almost every game this season, the Wolverines caught their second wind midway through the half and stormed back to within one with three and a half minutes to play. Cole carried the team with impressive plays on both sides of the ball — including a deep 3-pointer with seven minutes to play which electrified the Wolverines.
Utah’s defense was able to shut down UVU at the critical moment, though, as a pair of turnovers in the last few minutes spelled the end for the Wolverines. Cole finished the game with 31 points and 10 rebounds. The only other Wolverine with more than seven points was junior guard Trey Woodbury, who scored 10.
“The one thing I will say about our guys, is they fought, and they battled,” Madsen said. “Evan Cole played with a huge heart. He’s been in the process of getting back to full strength. I think tonight we saw a glimpse of what he’s capable of doing out there.”
The Wolverines have been shorthanded all season and senior guard Jamison Overton sat out for a third straight game. To make matters worse, sophomore guard Jordan Brinson took a hard fall on his tailbone late in the second half and had to be helped off the court. Madsen said Brinson would have x-rays done Tuesday night and it is unclear if he will miss significant time.
For now, the Wolverines will have a couple of days off to complete finals before returning to action on Saturday, Dec. 19 when they host the 1-4 Idaho State Bengals at 2 p.m. MST in the UCCU Center. The game will be aired on the WAC Digital Network and ESPN 960 AM.
Bridger Beal-Cvetko is a junior at Utah Valley University where he is studying journalism. He has been with The 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.