It definitely wasn't pretty out there, but we've been on the short end of so many tight games this season and it's a great feeling to finally pull one out. —Cathy Nixon, UVU head coach
Utah Valley University scored the game's final five points to overcome a late deficit and top Idaho State, 59-56, at the UCCU Center on Friday afternoon. Georgia Agnew went 3-of-4 at the line over the pivotal stretch to help the Wolverines' snap a nine-game losing streak that dated back to Nov. 14.
True freshman Rhaiah Spooner-Knight led all scorers with 21 points, including 17 in the first half, to help power UVU (2-10) to the home victory. Spooner-Knight's scoring outburst came on an efficient 7-of-9 shooting from the field and a perfect 7-of-7 performance from the foul line.
"It definitely wasn't pretty out there, but we've been on the short end of so many tight games this season and it's a great feeling to finally pull one out," UVU head coach Cathy Nixon said. "It wasn't one that came easy and I'm so proud of the girls for the way they battled and earned the win today."
Utah Valley led for the majority of the game, even enjoying a game-high 12-point advantage with just under two minutes to play before halftime. But ISU (2-7) used a late first-half push to get within striking distance at the break and kept up the pressure as it finally grabbed its first lead on an Anna Policicchio layup with 3:52 remaining in regulation.
"Unfortunately, we've been in that situation a few times this season where we've surrendered a lead late," Nixon said. "But we've learned what it takes to be on the winning end of that situation and we just needed to go out there and do it. I'm just proud of the way the players stepped up and made plays when they needed to."
That slight 56-54 advantage would hold for the next 2:16 of regulation as the two teams went on a stretch of five consecutive empty possessions. But with 1:36 still showing, Agnew, making her return to action after missing the previous four games with an injury, earned a trip to the free-throw line. The redshirt freshman buried the first free throw but saw the second clang off the back iron. However, Agnew got a second attempt to tie the contest when a free throw attempt was waived off after a Bengal lane violation. A second chance granted, Agnew knocked down the freebie to tie the score at 56-apiece.
On the ensuing ISU possession, Lindsey Reed - the Bengals' leading scorer - got a look at a 3-pointer but pushed it long. An offensive rebound gave ISU yet another opportunity to retake the lead, but a turnover gave the ball to UVU with just over a minute to go.
Attacking in the offensive zone, Agnew again worked her way to the foul line, this time with a chance to take the lead with 49 seconds remaining. The guard's first attempt was off the mark, but her second was true as the Wolverines took a 57-56 lead.
Needing a bucket to regain the lead, a frantic ISU possession at up the last 41 seconds of regulation. The Bengals got their first good look when Jasmine Lemon fired up one of ISU's 17, 3-point attempts on the day. That shot was no good, but the visitors kept the ball when the carom was batted out of bounds by a Wolverine with 32 seconds left. When play resumed, the Bengals ran off 22 seconds before settling for another three, this time off the fingers of Kara Jenkins. The shot again missed, but Reed hauled in the offensive board to give ISU yet another chance.
But as Reed looked to recycle the ball back outside, her pass was deflected and Spooner-Knight dove to the floor to grab the loose ball and incite a tie-up. The possession arrow favored the Wolverines, allowing Katie Kuklok to ice the game with a pair of free throws with only 0.6 seconds showing on the clock.
"Rhaiah is a fighter and dove right in there even though she needed stitches after taking a shot earlier in the game," Nixon said. "But she was huge today. They really keyed in on Katie [Kuklok] and it opened some things up early for other players and Rhaiah stepped up for us."
UVU grabbed the win despite not converting a field goal over the last 6:17 of regulation. Each of the Wolverines' final five points came from the foul line where it went a combined 24-of-28 on the night. The victory also came despite Utah Valley shooting under 40 percent from the field for just the third time this season.
Kuklok, who entered the game as the WAC's leading scorer, joined Spooner-Knight in double figures with 13 points. Agnew and Tina Doughty, also making a return from an injury, each added seven, while Kyra Prause chipped in six.
Reed led Idaho State with 11 points on 4-of-18 shooting.
The frantic conclusion came despite the Wolverines holding onto a game-high 12-point advantage with as few as two minutes remaining in the first half. An 11-0 spurt propelled the Wolverines to a 32-20 margin - a spurt that included four points apiece from Spooner-Knight and Doughty and a couple Kuklok freebies.
But that lead wilted when ISU closed the half on a 7-3 rally - capped by Lemon's running 35-footer at the buzzer - to get within striking distance and set the stage for the drama of the second period.
Utah Valley will enjoy a week's break for the Christmas holiday but will be back in action for its final non-conference contest next Saturday when it plays host to New Orleans in the UCCU Center. That game will tip off at 3 p.m. and precede the men's game against Tennessee Tech at 7 p.m.
Kellen Hiser is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.