Wolverines sweep Lancers at home to kick off WAC play

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The Utah Valley men’s basketball team completed their sweep of the California Baptist Lancers with an 81-77 victory on Saturday, Jan. 9.

Sophomore center Fardaws Aimaq and graduate forward Evan Cole came up big for the Wolverines as they each posted a double-double — marking the first time two Wolverines have each had a double-double in the same game since Jan. 7, 2017.

With the win, UVU improves to 4-5 on the season and 2-0 in the WAC, CBU falls to 0-2 in conference play.

Perhaps in response to Friday’s drubbing, the Lancers didn’t miss a beat to open the game and UVU seemed taken aback by their energy. The Wolverines needed a few possessions to get in the swing of things, as they had a few turnovers in the first few minutes of play. During that time, CBU jumped out to a 12-6 lead.

Things changed a few minutes later when senior guard Jamison Overton hammered home a dunk to close the gap to four points. From there, UVU went on a quick 8-0 run to claim the lead. The Wolverines dominated the next nine minutes, going on a 21-9 run to take a 27-21 lead with 5:31 left in the half.

“It was totally different,” Overton said of playing the new back-to-back format for conference games. “We figured they’d come out and put some pressure on us early. We weren’t planning on winning this game on offense, we were planning on putting pressure on them with our defense.”

Poor offensive ball movement and more turnovers — in addition to a string of questionable foul calls that went against UVU — allowed CBU to finish the half with a run of their own to take a 30-30 tie into the locker room at halftime.

Aimaq finished the half with 11 rebounds and eight points on 4-of-5 shooting and Overton scored nine points after earning five trips to the foul line. Junior guard Blaze Nield played all 20 minutes in the first half and dished out five assists.

As a team, the Wolverines had an impressive shooting half, with a field goal percentage of 48% and a 3-point field goal percentage of 42.9%. UVU gave up the ball 11 times in the half and allowed 12 points off of turnovers, while they only forced five turnovers by CBU.

The Lancers got off to another fast start with a 7-0 run to start the second but UVU had an immediate response. Cole — who shot 0-for-4 from the field in the first half — drained a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer to put UVU on the board and then hit from almost the exact same spot on the next possession. At 6’10”, Cole isn’t known as a long-range shooter and is only 22% from behind the arc in his career. Head coach Mark Madsen praised Cole’s versatility and highlighted the timing as critical to the team’s victory.

“There’s no question it changed the game,” he said. “He works on his craft, you see it at practice. Evan has a work ethic, he has a desire to be great. He’s a gamer; the bigger the game, the bigger the stage, the bigger the pressure, the better he is.”

UVU continued to push the Lancers with layups by Overton and junior guard Trey Woodbury and another jump shot by Cole. The Wolverines would surge to a 43-39 lead with 15 minutes remaining following a 10-0 run.

UVU stayed hot from the field throughout much of the second half and held a steady, if not large, lead over CBU. With 2:55 to play, the Wolverines led 74-68 as they seemingly tried to slow down their offensive sets to burn through as much clock as possible. Still, the Lancers managed to pull within three with under 45 seconds to play.

Woodbury advanced the ball up the court, taking his time to let the clock wind down. After looking for an open shot, he passed inside to Aimaq who missed a tough layup, giving CBU a chance with 12.8 seconds left. Sophomore guard Le’Tre Darthard immediately fouled on the inbound pass — the Lancers made 1-of-2 free throws, Aimaq secured the rebound for UVU and was fouled. Aimaq made both free throws before CBU missed a last-second 3-point attempt and the Wolverines would win 81-77.

Aimaq led the team with 23 points and 16 rebounds, the big man shot 8-of-12 from the field and 7-of-8 from the free throw line. Cole had 14 points and 11 rebounds, with all of his points coming in the second half.

“There’s a phrase that forms part of John Wooden’s triangle — competitive greatness,” Madsen said. “Rebounding is not about having physical ability… rebounding is all about heart. [Aimaq] has worked very hard throughout his life and his career to be a good rebounder.”

Overton chimed in on Cole’s big second half. “Back-to-backs are hard, this is our first time witnessing a back-to-back. We need the guys that didn’t have a big game last night to come in and fill those spots.”

Woodbury and Overton each scored 15 and Darthard had eight off the bench. Nield would finish with six points and seven assists while facilitating much of the offense during his 32 minutes on the court. UVU shot 53.8% from the field and a remarkable 61.5% from 3-point range. 

“It’s all about load management,” Madsen said of the back-to-back. “That aspect is hard because as a program you have to have contributions from everyone, which we had. It’s being able to shuffle the right players in and out — our players did a great job with that.”

The team will get six days off before going on the road to face the 7-5 Seattle U Redhawks on Friday, Jan. 15. Tip off is set for 7 p.m. MDT and the game will be aired on the WAC Digital Network and ESPN 960 AM.