Utah Valley University gave Idaho all it could handle Saturday afternoon, nearly toppling the WAC leaders before time ran out on a 69-61 defeat at Cowan Spectrum. The Wolverines held a one-point lead over the reigning WAC Tournament champions with five minutes to go but were outscored 15-6 over the culminating span to finish on the wrong side of a game that featured seven ties and nine lead changes.
"I think the goal for this road trip (at third-place Seattle U and UI) was to prove to ourselves that we could compete with these two quality teams," 19-year UVU head coach Cathy Nixon said. "It was disappointing to not come away with a win but I think we proved that we can hang with these caliber of programs. It came down to a couple possessions again tonight, but I'm proud of the way we competed and am looking forward to when we finally finish one."
After trailing for 24 of the game's first 27 minutes, Utah Valley capped a big rally with Spooner-Knight's three-point play at the 13:13 mark in the second period. Spooner-Knight's free throw put the Wolverines in front of Idaho (18-8, 11-1 WAC), 41-40, for the first time since the 17:44 mark in the first half.
The two teams seesawed to the finish line from there as the last 13 minutes featured five ties and six lead changes. The Vandals eventually recaptured the lead and went up by a couple possessions at 49-45 with nine minutes to go, but six straight points from Spooner-Knight quickly restored the advantage to UVU. The true freshman knocked down two free throws then knocked down back-to-back jumpers, scoring six points on three successive possessions.
Baskets were traded for the next two minutes, but Idaho began the decisive rally when Alyssa Charlston's free throw broke a 55-55 tie with five minutes to go. UVU would never recapture the lead, although it came within a single possession on a couple of occasions. Guard Georgia Agnew got a runner to go at 3:16 to put the Wolverines within one at 58-57, and a spinning jumper in the lane at 2:24 from Kuklok cut a deficit to only two at 61-59. But both times Idaho answered with scores of its own to keep the visitors at bay.
The Wolverines kept pace with the Vandals in most statistical categories, actually besting Idaho on the rebounding edge (42-36), points in the paint (34-30) and second-chance points (16-7). But the decisive stat may have come from beyond the arc where the Vandals went 9-of-27 versus 1-of-12 for the Wolverines. Idaho's Christina Salvatore knocked down five on her own, including the backbreaker with 2:10 to go that put her team ahead by five.
Aside from UVU's trio of double figure scorers, Agnew finished the day with eight points and five rebounds, while Whitney Jenkins scored seven with four boards.
Last year's WAC Tournament MVP Stacey Barr scored 17 points on 7-of-16 shooting while first team preseason all-conference selection Alyssa Charlston was limited to just six points on 2-of-10 shooting. Barr and Charlston combined to score 41 in Idaho's 96-55 win over UVU in this season's first meeting.
After leading by as many as 13 late in the first half, Idaho (18-8, 11-1 WAC) took a nine-point advantage into the locker room. Facing the same deficit at intermission that it before making a huge comeback at SU on Thursday night, the Wolverines needed less than seven minutes to eclipse the deficit and recapture their first lead since the 17:44 mark in the first half. UVU opened up a 17-6 run, jumpstarted by Loggins' jump hook in the lane at 18:34. A couple freebies and a layup from Kuklok coupled with Spooner-Knight's big three-point play to spur the rally gave the Wolverines a 41-40 lead with 13:13 left.
Utah Valley returns to Orem for its final home games of the 2013-14 season next week when it plays host to Chicago State on Thursday and Kansas City on Saturday. UVU's lone WAC win came in late January against former Great West Conference rival CSU - a 72-46 triumph. Meanwhile, Saturday's game vs. UMKC is Senior Day as the Wolverines honor the careers of seniors Jenkins and Kyra Prause.
Kellen Hiser is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.