UVU basketball: Wolverine women look to continue winning ways at NM State, UTPA

By Kellen Hiser

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 26 2014 3:12 p.m. MST

Winners of its last two games, the Utah Valley University women's basketball team looks to extend that streak when it begins a season-ending three-game road swing this week at New Mexico State and Texas-Pan American. The Wolverines visit NM State on Thursday before trekking to Edinburg, Texas, to face UTPA on Saturday. Both games tip off at 6 p.m. MT.

Thursday's contest against the Aggies can be seen live on ESPN3 or with the WatchESPN app.

Utah Valley (6-20, 3-10 WAC) tripled its conference win total last week when it topped Chicago State and Kansas City in the season's final home games. Those two wins snapped a five-game losing streak and tied the Wolverines' longest winning streak of the season.

Guard Katie Kuklok, who leads UVU in scoring at 16.8 points per game this season, averaged 20.0 ppg last week. She scored 24 points against CSU — connecting on seven 3-pointers along the way — before dropping 16 against UMKC. Thirteen of those 16 points came in the second half as she sparked the Wolverines' comeback midway through the second half. Kuklok scored nine of UVU's 11 points during an 11-2 rally that erased a seven-point deficit and put the home team out in front.

Rhaiah Spooner-Knight, who saw her streak of 13 consecutive games in double-digit scoring snapped against the Cougars on Thursday, got back to her high-scoring ways against the Kangaroos. She finished with a double-double, her third of the season, after scoring 16 points and snatching 10 rebounds. Two of those points came when she dropped in the go-ahead score with only 36 seconds left just before completing the double-double with a decisive defensive rebound on the ensuing UMKC possession.

Spooner-Knight averages 11.5 ppg, placing her alongside Kuklok as the only Wolverines averaging double figures. Spooner-Knight's 5.9 rebounds per game also lead the team.

UVU faces a team on Thursday night that has also won back-to-back contests as NM State enters the week with a record of 10-16 and 7-6 in the WAC. The Aggies hold the fourth spot in the conference standings, getting there behind wins over UTPA and CSU in their last two contests.

Junior guard Danesia Williamson paces NM State in the scoring column, averaging 20.6 ppg. That figure would be good for third in the WAC, but because she has played in fewer than 75 percent of the Aggies' games due to an injury, she does not currently qualify for the conference's individual rankings.

Williamson is followed by 13.5 ppg from sophomore Sasha Weber and 10.3 ppg from Abby Scott, another sophomore.

The trio combined to score 50 points in UVU's 83-78 overtime loss to NM State in this season's first meeting. Weber led the way with 22 points and eight rebounds, while Scott and Williamson finished with 15 and 13 points, respectively. True freshman Brianna Freeman came away with a season-high 16 points.

"New Mexico State is a team that can combine speed and athleticism with some very dangerous 3-point shooting," UVU head coach Cathy Nixon said. "Those things will give us some challenges on the defensive end, but I think we've been doing pretty well lately of sticking to our game plan and taking away people's strengths. But we'll definitely have to pick our poison when it comes to defending a team like New Mexico State."

The Wolverines got 24 points from Kuklok in that initial meeting — the third all-time between the two programs. The Aggies lead the all-time series, 2-1.

Utah Valley also dropped this season's first game against former Great West Conference rival Texas-Pan American. Playing in Orem, the Broncs came away with a 64-54 victory after limiting the Wolverines to just 29 percent shooting for the game.

After reaching as high as second place in the WAC standings earlier this season, UTPA (12-14, 6-7 WAC) has dropped five of its last six to fall to sixth on the league table. The Broncs have lost two straight, falling to Kansas City and NM State after earning a road win at Chicago State on Feb. 13.

True freshman Shawnte' Goff's 12.7 ppg is the only double figure scoring average on the UTPA roster. However, sophomore Kaelynn Boyd is not far off the pace at 9.9 ppg. Jasmine Thompson averages 9.2 ppg, while fellow junior forward Brittany Bush sits at 9.0.

Boyd and Goff combined to score 32 points against UVU in the first meeting, tallying 17 and 15 points apiece.

In one of the oldest series' in UVU Division I history, which dates all the way back to 2004-05 season, the Wolverines and Broncs will be meeting for the 20th time on Saturday in Edinburg. Utah Valley leads the all-time series, 12-7, and saw its brief two-game win streak against the Broncs snapped on Jan. 25.

"In the first meeting it really just came down to whichever team was going to step up and make some plays was the one that was going to win," Nixon said. "Unfortunately, we failed to make those plays for whatever reason. But they are another team with multiple weapons and this trip down to Edinburg is always a challenging one."

The Wolverines were victorious in their last trip to the UTPA Fieldhouse, pulling out a dramatic 51-50 victory after Sammie Jensen converted a layup in the waning seconds.

Following this trip to the WAC's southernmost points, Utah Valley wraps up its 2013-14 regular season on Saturday, March 8, at Bakersfield.

Kellen Hiser is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.

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