Utah Valley University battled back from a second-half deficit but couldn't find the plays it needed down the stretch as it fell to Grand Canyon, 66-63, in WAC action Thursday night at the UCCU Center. The Wolverines, who led by as much as nine early in the second half, fell behind by eight before climbing all the way back to within one late in the game.
Three Wolverines finished in double figures on the night, an effort headed by 14 points from center Sam Loggins. Whitney Jenkins scored 12 points, while Rhaiah Spooner-Knight posted her 11th straight game in double figures with 10 points.
"I thought tonight was one of our very best games this season, especially when you look at offensive execution," UVU head coach Cathy Nixon said. "We had good contributions from so many kids tonight. The disappointing thing is that we came up one possession short. But I can't fault the kids' effort and the way they battled for 40 minutes tonight."
The Wolverines (4-18, 1-8 WAC) shot an impeccable 55 percent from the field, their best percentage against fellow NCAA Division I competition this season, to outpace the 48 percent effort from their GCU (16-6, 5-4 WAC) counterpart. Utah Valley also controlled the glass with a 29-25 edge in rebounding, not to mention a 44-28 scoring advantage in the paint.
A 9-2 run to close the first half put UVU out in front 35-38 heading into the locker room. The two teams battled to seven ties in the first period, trading buckets throughout, but it was the Wolverines opening up a 9-2 run to close the half. Knotted at 26-26, Rebecca MaWhinney hit a tough jumper in the lane to kickstart the run, a score promptly followed by a layup from Georgia Agnew in traffic. Capping the run, Tina Doughty knocked down a corner three with 33 seconds left to send UVU into the break with its largest lead of the game to that point.
That advantage would grow to a game-high nine when Jenkins spun home a layup on the Wolverines' opening possession of the second half. UVU kept the Antelopes at bay for the ensuing four minutes, but the visitors began to chip away near the 15-minute mark.
Grand Canyon cut the lead to 39-37 on the heels of a 9-2 run early in the second half. Twice the Wolverines got buckets to push their modest lead back to four, as Spooner-Knight and Loggins converted jumpers inside, but a 3-pointer and jumper from junior guard Kaitlyn Petersen took the `Lopes to within one at 45-44.
The lead finally changed hands with 9:55 showing on the clock when Deanna Daniels hit two free throws for GCU. What followed was a 9-2 run that ultimately put the Antelopes ahead for good.
Trailing 55-47, the Wolverines battled all the way back to within a possession after a quick 6-0 run. UVU kept within striking distance, even getting to within one at 57-56 when Agnew converted a three-point play.
With 43 seconds showing on the clock, GCU's Johnna Brown went to the foul line to shoot two with the visitors clinging to a 62-60 lead. After making the first free throw, Brown's second was off the mark. But Daniels swooped in for the `Lopes and snatched the offensive rebound, creating an extra possession that culminated with a Brown layup. The score put GCU ahead by two possessions, 65-60, with only 19 seconds to play and effectively sealed the Wolverines' fate.
Loggins' 14 points came on 6-of-7 shooting while Spooner-Knight led the team with seven rebounds. Brown posted a double-double for Grand Canyon, scoring 18 to go along with 10 rebounds.
The Wolverines fall to 0-2 against the Antelopes this season after having nearly avenged an 88-51 loss in early January down in Phoenix.
"We're an entirely different team than we were down at (GCU's) place earlier this year," Nixon said. "We've just got to continue to focus on the process, like we've emphasized all season long. Our shortcomings get a little amplified because we're so young, but these kids come to work everyday and there's a lot of satisfaction in that as a coach."
Utah Valley will play five of its next seven games on the road, beginning with a road swing to the Northwest next week. The Wolverines face Seattle U at 8 p.m. MT on Thursday before swinging back through Moscow, Idaho, to face the University of Idaho on Saturday at 3 p.m. MT.
Kellen Hiser is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.