Utah Valley University survived down the stretch to stay unbeaten in the WAC with a 62-55 over Chicago State on Saturday at the UCCU Center.
The Wolverines (12-7, 6-0) built an 18-point first half lead and held on to defeat the Cougars (9-11, 4-2) in a game with first place on the line in the early-season league standings. Utah Valley, winners of seven straight, currently sits in front of three teams (CSU, New Mexico State and Grand Canyon) at 4-2 in league play.
“We knew it would be a battle. Chicago State always plays with tremendous energy and effort and that’s a real credit to coach (Tracy) Dildy and his staff,” UVU head coach Dick Hunsaker said. “There’s a lot of familiarity with their personnel and we’ve had a lot of games over the years with them. We feel very fortunate that we were able to pull this out an end up on the right side of the score.”
UVU used runs of 7-1 and 11-0 to take a 30-12 lead in the first half. Hayes Garrity hit a pair of buckets during the run before Holton Hunsaker buried a jumper to give the Wolverines the 18-point advantage with 3:38 to go in the half.
Chicago State closed to within 12 just before halftime when Zach Nelson scored as time expired, sending UVU in the locker room with a 35-21 lead.
The Cougars’ defensive pressure aided in their comeback attempt in the second half, chipping away at the Wolverine advantage. It was at eight, 39-31, less than four minutes into the half when Keawe Enos buried a three, and after a free throw by Clarke Rosenberg, Nelson hit a 3-pointer of his own. Bed Aird followed with a bucket to push the lead back to 15 at 47-32.
Utah Valley led by 13, 54-41, after two free throws from Hunsaker before the final charge from Chicago State. Matt Ross hit a 3-pointer to make it a four-point game and then scored on a layup to cap a 13-2 run and get the Cougars within two, 56-54, with 1:12 remaining.
Garrity hit a pair of free throws, and after Rosenberg again when 1-for-2 from the line, Hunsaker hit two from the foul line. Nelson secured it with an offensive rebound following a missed free throw, and Hunsaker sealed it with two more free throws.
Hunsaker finished with 13 to lead the way for Utah Valley, hitting 11-for-13 from the line. Aird scored 11 and grabbed 12 rebounds, and Nelson also finished with 12 boards, scoring 11 and dishing out six assists. Enos also scored 10 for Utah Valley with Garrity adding eight.
For Chicago State, Rosenberg led the way with 19 points and also finished with five steals. Quinton Pippen and Ross scored 13 apiece with Ross also grabbing 11 rebounds. Utah Valley out-rebounded Chicago State, 42-34. The teams will meet again in the Windy City on Feb. 20.
Up next for Utah Valley is a trip to Texas-Pan American next Thursday against the Broncs before contest on Saturday night at league-favorite and defending WAC Tournament champion New Mexico State. The Wolverines and Broncs will tip Thursday from UTPA Fieldhouse at 6 p.m. MT.
Clint Burgi is the assistant athletic director for sports information at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.