The 2013-14 regular season comes to a close Saturday when the Utah Valley University women's basketball team visits sunny California for a 2 p.m. MT tilt against Bakersfield. Saturday's game is the regular season finale for both teams and is a preview of the first round of the WAC Tournament where the two teams are already slated to meet again.
Bakersfield (17-10, 11-4 WAC) clinched a second-place finish in its inaugural WAC season last week after splitting a pair of road games. The Roadrunners fell to Texas-Pan American, 84-62, in Edinburg but bounced back to win a high-scoring affair at New Mexico State, 96-90. CSUB finishes three games back of regular season champion Idaho and was the only team to hand the Vandals a loss during the WAC season.
Meanwhile, Utah Valley (7-21, 4-11) also earned a split on the same road trip last week, completing a feverish comeback to top NM State, 87-81, before stumbling against UTPA in a 55-46 defeat. The Wolverines were clicking offensively against the Aggies, shooting almost 60 percent for the game and posting their third-highest point total of the season. Scoring 52 second half points, UVU was able to withstand 17 made 3-pointers from the home team — the most NM State has made in a game this season.
But that same offensive efficiency was hard to come by two days later against the Broncs as the Wolverines scored only 46 points — their lowest output of the season. Only guard Katie Kuklok finished in double figures, posting 11 points, a statistic that comes in stark contrast to Thursday night when all five Wolverine starters finished in double digits and combined for 77 points.
Kuklok scored 16 points in UVU's win over NM State, bested only by 18 points apiece from Georgia Agnew and Rhaiah Spooner-Knight. Kuklok and Spooner-Knight lead the Wolverines in scoring at 16.6 and 11.6 ppg, respectively.
Utah Valley and Bakersfield first met this season on Jan. 4, in the first-ever WAC game for both programs. Played in Orem, the `Runners came away victorious in a back-and-forth battle by a score of 61-59. With possession beneath its own basket and 2.1 still showing on the clock, freshman forward Karlee Kartchner got a look to tie things up, but her shot went begging off the back iron.
Spooner-Knight recorded her first double-double in the loss, scoring 14 points to go along with 11 rebounds.
Leading the way for CSUB, though, were 25 points for junior guard Tyonna Outland. A candidate for WAC Player of the Year, Outland ranks second in the conference in scoring at 21.1 ppg and trails Kansas City's Eilise O'Connor by only 0.4 of a point.
"Outland is probably one of the top three all-around players in the league," Utah Valley head coach Cathy Nixon said. "She is very good. She can score in multiple ways — off the dribble and can shoot the three. I'm not sure any one player on our team can stop her, but it will need to be a concerted team effort."
Behind Outland, only senior guard Melissa Sweat averages double figures. She scored eight against the Wolverines in the previous meeting and averages 13.9 ppg on the year.
Sophomore Batabe Zempare is second in the WAC in rebounding at 10.8 rpg. She is just short of a double-double average, scoring at an 8.5 ppg clip.
"As a team, CSUB might have the best overall athleticism in the conference," Nixon said. "They do some really good things with all their length, speed and quickness. They have a great rebounder in Zempare and good complementary set of players with some shooters that benefit from dribble penetration. They definitely provide some challenges for us defensively and on the glass."
Averaging 76.1 points per game, Bakersfield holds the WAC's number one scoring offense. It is also first in offensive rebounding, snatching 15.1 offensive boards per game. On the flip side, though, the `Runners are the WAC's second-worst team in terms of scoring defense. Opposing teams have scored 74.7 ppg against CSUB this season.
UVU is 2-6 all-time against Bakersfield and has never beaten the `Runners on their home floor.
Following Saturday's game, Utah Valley gets set to head to Las Vegas for its first-ever WAC Tournament. The Wolverines and Roadrunners will take the floor at 8:30 p.m. in the second game of Wednesday's second session. All games will be played at the Orleans Arena and all-session passes are available now.
Kellen Hiser is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.