Utah Valley University picked up a big road win in its first-ever Western Athletic Conference game, 82-74, over Bakersfield on Saturday at Rabobank Arena. Ben Aird matched a career-high with 26 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, while Zach Nelson set a new high with 22 points to go along with 11 boards.
The Wolverines (7-7, 1-0) shot 64.3 percent in the second half in outscoring the Roadrunners (7-8, 0-1) 52-40 after the break. Holton Hunsaker scored 12 points and dished out seven assists, and Mitch Bruneel added 11 points. Nelson’s stat line also included six assists and three blocks.
“This was obviously a big game for us, a big game for Utah Valley University and to all those that helped us get into the WAC,” head coach Dick Hunsaker said. “For our kids to come out and play as they did, with the presence of mind they did, was great.”
After trailing by as much as 10 points in the first half, UVU went into the break down four, 34-30. The Wolverines trailed 50-46 with 12:56 left before a 13-2 run gave the team its first lead since the first three minutes of the game.
The run started with a tip-in by Aird and a jumper from Bruneel that tied the game at 50-50. Nelson followed with a 3-pointer from the corner to give Utah Valley a lead it would never relinquish.
After Stefon Johnson hit a jumper to make it 53-52, Nelson record consecutive assists on buckets by Bruneel and Aird and then was on the receiving end of a Hunsaker assist to give UVU a 59-52 lead.
The Wolverines held their biggest lead, 69-57, after two Aird free throws with 5:23 to go. Bakersfield was able to close within six on multiple occasions but would get no closer.
With 1:05 to go, Aird scored a big bucket to put Utah Valley back up eight. Then, with just under 30 seconds to go, up by seven and on defense, Hayes Garrity sealed it with a steal before Bruneel knocked down a pair to put UVU back up nine, 79-70.
After its hot second half, where UVU hit 18-for-28 from the field, UVU shot 54.0 percent overall for the game. The ‘Runners hit 51.7 percent from the field but were outrebounded by Utah Valley, 33-23.
Johnson and Issiah Grayson each had 15 to lead the ‘Runners, while Javonte Maynor finished with 14.
The Wolverines host Grand Canyon next Saturday night at the UCCU Center. The ‘Lopes, out of Phoenix, are coached by former NBA All-Star Dan Majerle.
Clint Burgi is the assistant athletic director for sports information at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.