With half the conference season now gone, the Utah Valley University women's basketball team looks to close out its recent three-game home stand on a high note when Grand Canyon comes to town Thursday at 7 p.m. in the UCCU Center. The Wolverines came up short in their first WAC meeting with the Antelopes, dropping an 88-51 decision in Phoenix.
UVU (4-17, 1-7 WAC) suffered two tough setbacks at home last week, falling to Texas-Pan American before losing to New Mexico State in a game it never trailed in regulation. Meanwhile, GCU (15-6, 4-4 WAC) got back to its winning ways with a pair of home wins over Chicago State, 84-53, and Kansas City, 74-63.
Though sitting in fifth in the current WAC standings, the Antelopes hold the league's best overall winning percentage at .714, after going 11-2 in non-conference play this season. GCU has yet to win on the road in WAC play. The Wolverines are currently in eighth place and are two games back of seventh-place UMKC.
Wrapping up the week against NM State, Utah Valley built a 10-point lead on three separate occasions in the second half. But the visiting Aggies kept chipping away and were able to tie things up at 67-67 with fewer than 30 seconds to play. On their final possession, the Wolverines' Katie Kuklok got to the basket, but her leaner in the lane was just off the mark as the game went into overtime.
In the extra frame, NM State built a quick four-point lead. A Kuklok three got UVU to within a possession, but the Aggies answered with a trey of their own to reset the advantage and ultimately steal the win in Orem.
Grand Canyon is led in scoring by guard Kaitlyn Petersen. The junior averages 15.1 ppg and is coming off a 22-point, 10-assist performance against Chicago State last week. She paces the WAC in assists per game at 4.8. Deanna Daniels, GCU's second leading scorer, is coming off a monster week in which she averaged 23.5 ppg and 7.0 rpg over the `Lopes two games. For the season, Daniels, a senior forward, averages 13.3 ppg.
"Almost everything goes through Petersen and she has the ball in her hands so much," UVU head coach Cathy Nixon said. "She's the spoon that stirs the pot and she's a very impressive player so we've really got to key in on her. Daniels was also very good against us in the first meeting. She's a very strong player, a very efficient player and one that's tough for us to defend."
The all-time series between Utah Valley and Grand Canyon is tied at 1-1 after the `Lopes picked up a win over the Wolverines earlier this season. Six Antelopes finished in double figures on that afternoon on their way to 52 percent shooting for the game and a 14-for-28 mark from three. Spooner-Knight scored 10 points to lead UVU's scoring efforts.
"They shot the ball extremely well against us down in Phoenix," Nixon said. "Hopefully we can take a little of the heat out of their shooting just by being better defensively. When teams shoot like they did and we shoot like we did, it becomes the perfect storm for a big loss. But we just need to defend the 3-point line a little better and try to limit their dribble penetration."
Following Thursday's action, the Wolverines will play five of their remaining seven games on the road beginning with a trip the Northwest to face Seattle U and Idaho next week. UVU meets SU in the Emerald City on Thursday, Feb. 13, while a date with the Vandals in Moscow awaits on the following Saturday.
Kellen Hiser is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company