UVU basketball: Wolverines back home to host Santa Clara on Saturday

By Kellen Hiser

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Dec. 13 2013 6:45 p.m. MST

Utah Valley University is set to return home for the first time in December when it plays host to Santa Clara at 3 p.m. on Saturday in the PE Building. After three straight road games spread over the last two weeks, the Wolverines will close the calendar year at home as Saturday's game commences a four-game home stand — the longest of the season — extending into January.

Utah Valley (1-9) went 0-3 on its last three-game road swing, extending its recent skid to eight straight games after dropping an 81-70 decision to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Wednesday night. After an even first half, the Utes were able to pull away from the Wolverines in the second but not before a late UVU flurry kept things interesting. Facing its largest deficit of the game at 15 with only 1:53 still to play, Utah Valley reeled off a 12-2 spurt over the next 1:20. Katie Kuklok scored eight of those 12, draining two 3-pointers to go along with a pair of free throws down the stretch.

Despite the eleventh-hour, Wolverine rally, Utah was still able to ice the game at the foul line to settle the final tally with an 11-point margin belying the true competitiveness of the game.

Kuklok scored a season-high 34 points in the capital city, running her WAC-leading season average to 21.3 points per game. She did all of her scoring on just 7-of-12 shooting as she went 16-of-17 from the free-throw line to tie a single-game UVU record for made free throws. She also hit four treys in the contest, right at her season average. At 4.0 made 3-pointers per game, Kuklok leads the WAC and ranks second in the NCAA.

Behind Kuklok, fellow guard Tina Doughty is the only other Wolverine averaging double figures. Putting up 13.7 ppg, Doughty combines with Kuklok to score 35 points per game — almost half of UVU's 70.9 points per game as a team.

Karlee Kartchner, who leads the team in rebounding at 6.8 an outing, made her return to action Wednesday night after missing the last four games due to injury. She played 13 minutes and scored two points.

Meanwhile, Santa Clara (2-6) comes into Saturday's game looking to finish its four-game road trip on a positive note. The Broncos have lost their last two games, falling 70-48 to Hampton at a neutral site and 69-49 at Fresno State on Sunday.

A member of the West Coast Conference, SCU is led by junior Nici Gilday's 13.5 ppg. Jo Paine and Vanessa Leo are on the cusp of double-digit scoring this season, averaging 9.9 and 9.1 ppg, respectively.

Leo is also the team's leading rebounder, pulling in 7.8 caroms per contest.

As a team, Santa Clara averages 66.9 points per game on 40.8 percent shooting — figures that rank ninth and seventh, respectively, in the 10-team WCC. The Broncos also rank last in the league in 3-point shooting at 34.6 percent but rank second in 3-point field goal percentage defense, limiting opponents to only 27.7 percent shooting from beyond the arc this season.

"They have some good size inside and good shooters outside," UVU head coach Cathy Nixon said of Saturday's opponent. "Last year was the first year that we played them and what we learned was that they are a very competitive team. We anticipate a battle on Saturday. They provide a couple matchup challenges for us but we're grateful to be back home and hope that we can put together a complete game out on the floor."

Saturday marks just the second meeting all-time between Utah Valley and Santa Clara after the two teams met in California last November. In that game, the Broncos got 19 points and 13 rebounds from then-sophomore Ruta Zurauskyte as SCU grabbed an 80-67 win.

This season, Zurauskyte is averaging 6.1 ppg and 2.3 rpg.

The Wolverines and Broncos shot nearly identical percentages (44.4 to 44.1) last season, but Santa Clara got up 14 more field goal attempts than UVU and converted five more 3-pointers. Utah Valley was led by 23 points from senior Kaycee Mansfield. Doughty was the only Wolverine on this season's roster to score in the game, putting up seven points in 29 minutes of action.

After Saturday's contest, UVU will have just two more games remaining on the non-conference portion of its schedule. Home games against Idaho State and New Orleans bookend the Christmas holiday, as the Bengals roll into Orem on Dec. 20, while the Privateers visit the UCCU Center on Dec. 28. WAC action gets underway on Jan. 4 when the Wolverines host Bakersfield.

Kellen Hiser is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.