The Utah Valley University women's basketball team climbed out of a 23-point hole and got within one during the final minutes against defending WAC champion Seattle University but the comeback effort stalled there as the Wolverines ultimately fell, 69-65, on Thursday night at the Connolly Center.
A trio finished in double digit scoring for UVU, led by a season-best 17 points from guard Georgia Agnew. Senior Whitney Jenkins added 15 while Rhaiah Spooner-Knight chipped in 14. Sam Loggins narrowly missed double figures with nine points on the night.
"It feels like we're telling the same story every night where the game just comes down to a few possessions," Utah Valley head coach Cathy Nixon said. "But what an incredible effort from our team tonight. They never backed down, showed tremendous resiliency and showed that we can compete with any team in this league on any given night. We don't like moral victories, but I'm very proud of the way the kids competed tonight amidst adversity."
UVU (4-19, 1-9 WAC) led only briefly in the first half when Katie Kuklok knocked down a three to open the scoring. A 15-2 SU (12-12, 7-4 WAC) run put the home team out in front 15-5, a lead that would balloon to as many as 23 at the 4:06 mark late in the first half.
Facing a 39-16 deficit, the Wolverines closed the first half with a renewed urgency, piecing together a 13-4 run to carry momentum in the locker room. A steal and layup from Jenkins got things rolling for UVU, and Agnew got into the act with a lay-in and a three-point play. Jenkins would cap the spurt with a baseline jumper with 32 seconds left to send the visitors into halftime trailing by 14.
"Georgia and Whitney were terrific tonight," Nixon said. "Whitney is playing as well as we've ever seen her play and what we're seeing with Georgia is the product of a lot of her own hard work. She's put in a ton of time on her own working on her offensive game and it paid off tonight."
UVU continued to chip away following the intermission, finally getting to within single digits at 15:33 when Loggins powered home a layup inside to make the score 47-38. The Wolveirnes got as close as six before SU created some space with a quick 8-0 run.
But again UVU responded, getting a three from Jenkins and back-to-back runners from Agnew. A score inside from Loggins, a 15-foot jumper from Agnew, and a bucket from Karlee Kartchner brought the Wolverines all the way to within five at 59-54.
With 4:28 still to go, the Redhawks' Sylvia Shephard stormed down the lane for two of her game-high 20 points to put SU ahead 63-58, but Jenkins again answered. The senior dropped home, through a foul, a tough runner off the glass and converted the ensuing free throw to put the Wolverines within a possession.
The chance to tie finally came when Loggins earned a trip to the foul line with 2:21 showing and UVU trailing 63-61. Loggins got the first freebie to go but couldn't get the second to fall, marking the closest the Wolverines would come to eclipsing SU at a one-point deficit.
Four points from Ashley Ward and a couple free throws from Shephard allowed the Redhawks to keep UVU at bay, despite Kuklok's last-gasp 3-pointer with only 16 seconds to play.
Utah Valley finished the game at 44 percent shooting and went 10-of-16 from the foul line. Seattle U wound up at 50 percent shooting after the Wolverines limited the Redhawks to just 41 percent in the second half compared to 56 percent in the first. SU also controlled the glass, 36-30.
The Wolverines continue their Northwest road swing Saturday when they visit the University of Idaho, Tipoff is set for 3 p.m. MT from the Cowan Center.
Kellen Hiser is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.