CHICAGO — For the second straight year, Utah Valley University's season came to a close in the Great West Conference Tournament Championship. Suffering its worst shooting night of the season, UVU fell to NJIT 52-42 in Saturday's final.
"I give credit to NJIT, they took it to us," head coach Cathy Nixon said. "We kept working and had our opportunities, but we just didn't hit shots. Shooting 20 percent from the field, it's a miracle we kept things as close as we did."
The Highlanders got a game-high 20 points and 18 rebounds from senior Rayven Johnson and 12 points from sophomore Sarah Olson on their way the crown.
UVU falls to 1-2 in GWC Championship games, appearing in three of the league's four tournament finals. The Wolverines, who move to the Western Athletic Conference next year, claimed their only victory in the inaugural edition of the tournament in 2010.
Despite its shooting woes, UVU hung tight for most of the game. It held NJIT to just 35 percent shooting and never trailed by more than 10 in the contest.
The Wolverines got to within three on a pair of occasions — getting a three from Alle Cardwell at the 12:50 mark of the second half to make the score 32-29 and not long thereafter, a mid-range jumper from Whitney Jenkins to make the deficit just 34-31 with 11:59 to go.
That was as close as UVU would come in a game it never led nor tied.
The Wolverines got their only true offensive spark in the first half when Huber dropped in eight points over a six-minute span late in the first half. The guard buried a pair of treys and also converted two free throws to keep UVU within striking distance at the halftime break, 22-17.
Saturday's championship brought an end to the distinguished career of forward and two-time GWC Player of the Year Sammie Jensen. In just two years at UVU, Jensen closes her career having joined former All-American Robyn Fairbanks as the only other player in Wolverine history with 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. She ranks fourth all-time in scoring and second in rebounding.
"I've always said that if this silly game of basketball doesn't make us better people, then it's a waste of time," Nixon said. "This team made me a better person this season and I only wish I could coach them for one more game. I love this team and those seniors for the way they've raised the bar and the expectation for our program going forward."
Utah Valley now makes its leap into the WAC era beginning in 2013-14 and will compete for the first time for an automatic NCAA postseason bid.
Great West Conference All-Tournament Team
MVP - Rayven Johnson, NJIT
Shanice Steenholdt, Houston Baptist
Sarah Olson, NJIT
Kaycee Mansfield, Utah Valley
Sammie Jensen, Utah Valley
Kellen Hiser is sports information assistant at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.