Utah Valley University held off Idaho to move to 3-0 in the WAC and win its fourth straight, 71-66, on Thursday at the Cowan Spectrum.
Mitch Bruneel hit a key 3-pointer with 2:58 to go, putting the Wolverines (9-7, 3-0) ahead by five, 68-63, on their way to a tie atop the early-season WAC standings with Chicago State.
After Bruneel’s three, the teams traded free throws before Stephen Madison scored on a layup and later a free throw to make it a two point game, 68-66, with 26 seconds left.
Holton Hunsaker then sank two key free throws with 15.5 to go, and the Wolverines rebounded a missed three on the other end with a Hayes Garrity free throw accounting for the final five-point win.
"Our bench was exceptional for us and I thought that they gave us a tremendous amount of effort. They were the difference for us," head coach Dick Hunsaker said. "Down the stretch we made some big plays and made a couple of timely stops. This is a nice win for us."
Bruneel scored a career-high 18 — on 6-for-9 shooting — and also grabbed eight rebounds while Garrity hit a trio of 3-pointers on his way to 14 off the bench. Zach Nelson added 12, and Ben Aird scored all 11 of his points in the second half for UVU.
The Wolverines had a strong first half, shooting 50 percent from the field and out-rebounding the Vandals, 21-13, to take a 34-26 lead at the break.
UVU jumped ahead 7-1 and maintained an advantage throughout the half, getting key contributions from several players. Garrity, who had 11 at the half, followed a Bruneel three with one of his own to put UVU ahead, 13-5.
Later in the half, Taylor Brown drilled a 3-pointer from the far corner, 1-of-6 from beyond the arc that the Wolverines made before halftime.
Out of the break, Bruneel was on the receiving end of an alley-oop from Nelson, putting UVU up 10, and after two Aird free throws, the Wolverines led 38-26.
Idaho scored six straight to get within six, but the Wolverines answered that with a 11-4 spurt that included a dunk from Bruneel and was punctuated with a pair of Aird free throws. Utah Valley led 49-36 with just over 13 minutes to go.
Again Idaho wouldn’t go away, scoring the game’s next seven points to get back within six, 49-43, with 12:04. The Wolverines jumped back ahead by 10, 55-45, after Brenden Evans took a feed from Garrity and Nelson got a basket.
From there the Vandals would slowly chip away, getting within one, 58-57, with just under six minutes to go. Utah Valley led 61-59 with 3:33 left to go, setting up the final flurry.
UVU shot 46 percent overall from the field and hit 8-for-17 from the 3-point line (47.1 percent). Idaho (7-12, 1-4) shot 37.9 percent for the game and got a game-high 21 from Madison with Connor Hill scoring 19 and Mike Scott 12. The Wolverines had a 38-32 advantage on the glass and blocked seven shots on the defensive end, four from Aird and three by Nelson.
The Wolverines now travel to Seattle U on Sunday for a game that tips at 1 p.m. PT.
Clint Burgi is the assistant athletic director for sports information at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.