OREM — In a game that saw 12 ties and 15 lead changes, Utah Valley University found itself on the wrong side of an 87-84 score line in a wild, up-tempo contest against Sacramento State on Wednesday afternoon. The loss was the fourth in a row for the Wolverines who suffered the defeat after being outscored, 6-3, over the final 2:12 following the game's 12th tie at 81-81.
Coming off the bench, true freshman Rhaiah Spooner-Knight posted a season-best 23 points and came up just one rebound shy of a double-double after hauling in nine. Not far behind Spooner-Knight was guard Katie Kuklok, whose 20-point effort gave her five games of 20-plus points this season. Thirteen of those points came in the second half prior to fouling out with 1:13 still to play.
Competing with Sacramento State's fast-paced offense — a system that is predicated on quick shots, 3-pointers and aggressive offensive rebounding — that averages nearly 87 field goal attempts and 90.5 points per game, Utah Valley countered with one of its most efficient games of basketball this season. The Wolverines shot 49.1 percent from the field, their best percentage since their 114-27 win over Walla Walla where they set a program record for field goal percentage at 66.7 percent.
But where UVU was efficient, the Hornets (4-1) made up ground in sheer volume of attempts. Sacramento State went 29-of-78 from the field and attempted 23 more shots than the Wolverines. The Hornets went 11-of-33 from beyond the arc, meeting their season average in percentage but falling short of their nation-leading 14.5, 3-point attempts per game.
For the game, the Wolverines enjoyed a sizable advantage at the free-throw line, shooting 41 free throws to Sacramento State's 27. But UVU missed 14 of those freebies, ending the game at 65.9 percent from the charity stripe. Utah Valley also suffered 20 turnovers and surrendered 21 offensive rebounds resulting in 19 second-chance points for the Hornets.
"I can't fault our effort," UVU head coach Cathy Nixon said. "We worked really hard today. We just needed to work a little bit smarter. There are little things in each game that you need to care of or else they will beat you. Today it was not making free throws and not keeping them off the offensive glass. But we competed hard today and we'll continue to mature and get better and we'll start closing out games like this."
After taking a 40-38 lead into halftime, the Wolverines scored 11 of the second half's first 16 points in taking a 51-43 lead — their largest of the game. A quick bucket to begin the period tied things at 40-all, but a three-point play from Spooner-Knight followed by a fast break layup from guard Whitney Jenkins helped UVU to an 11-3 spurt that was capped by a trey from Kuklok.
But almost as quickly as that lead was conceived, it evaporated behind a 10-4 Hornet rally over the next three minutes. A couple buckets inside and two threes ignited the run as the game reached another impasse at 55-55 with 14:27 to play.
With 7:35 showing on the clock, UVU again made a move to separate itself from Sacramento State. Freshman Rebecca MaWhinney, junior Tina Doughty and Spooner-Knight combined to convert six consecutive free throws while an inside score from Spooner-Knight formed an 8-0 run that pushed the Wolverine advantage to 72-65.
But back came the Hornets with a 9-2 spurt to tie things at 74-74 with just 4:30 to go. From there, the two teams traded baskets and the lead until the score reached 81-81 with 2:12 showing on the clock. Sacramento State took control from there, outscoring UVU over the final minutes. The Hornets knocked down 4-of-6 free throw attempts and converted a driving layup in that time, while the Wolverines went 1-of-5 from the field and turned it over twice.
"I knew by the way the game was going that the game was going to come down to one or two possessions," Nixon said. "We just turned it over at inopportune times and got a few bad bounces."
Sacramento State had four players finish in double figures, led by Hallie Gennett's 22 points.
Five players fouled out in the ontest: three from Sacramento State and two from Utah Valley.
The Wolverines will look to right the ship when they return to action Saturday at the UCCU Center to face another Big Sky Conference foe in Northern Arizona. The Lumberjacks enter the contest at 0-2 and trail in the all-time series with UVU, 1-2.
Kellen Hiser is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.