It just means a lot to go into an arena like this and in an environment like this and be able to compete. —UVU guard Kenneth Ogbe
Utah Valley went into Rupp Arena with no fear of getting blown out by the fifth-ranked Kentucky in its season-opener on Friday night.
Despite controlling the first half and leading 34-25 at the break, the Wolverines were not able to duplicate the same performance in the second half and fell, 73-63.
The tables were turned in the beginning of the second half when the Wildcats (1-0) went on an 18-0 run to claim the lead. UVU (0-1) tried getting back into it, but missed open shots and 20 turnovers doomed them.
After the Wolverines built their largest lead of the game at 37-25 just 44 seconds into the second half on a Kenneth Ogbe and-one, Kentucky utilized a 2-3 zone defense to fight its way back in front.
"The zone always has its holes, but if you can have a big long zone like they do with the point guard and everyone else, it has a chance to be really effective. It certainly was, I thought, the difference in the game for us," UVU coach Mark Pope said in a Kentucky news release.
The Wildcats forced five turnovers during the decisive 18-0 run, leading to 11 points for Kentucky. The Wolverines stayed within 10 points until 7:32 remained and climbed within 69-63 with 18 seconds left, but UVU couldn't overcome shooting 41.1 percent from the field.
Kentucky shot just 20.5 percent in the first half but increased that to 59.4 percent in the second half to emerge victorious.
"At halftime I said, this is good for us, let's see who we are. Let's see who is willing to fight, Kentucky coach John Caliper said in a team news release. "We went zone and it kind of got us going. But again, and that's what we should use the zone for, but we, we had too many guys that were just getting beat on the dribble. Too many guys out of position. But that's what happens when you have all freshmen and a couple sophomores."
Utah Valley was led by Ogbe, who scored 12 points and added seven rebounds. Jake Toolson had 11 points in his first game for the Wolverines after transferring from BYU, while Brandon Randolph, Conner Toolson and Isaac Neilson added 10 points each.
Kentucky was led by Hamidou Diallo's 18 points, while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander added 13 points and tied for the team lead with four assists.
UVU had its own run in the first half, building a 34-25 halftime lead on the back of a 16-2 run. During that stretch, Ogbe and Randolph both hit 3-pointers, Neilson added a pair of buckets and Ben Nakwaasah scored four points.
Kentucky didn't score the final 3:58 of the first half.
Calipari was complimentary of Randolph, who added seven assists and two steals while shooting 4 of 7 from the field.
"Their point guard kind of surprised us. I didn't know that he could get by us and get in the lane like he did," Calipari said.
The Wolverines have very little time to catch their collective breath, as they will face No. 1 Duke on Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium, with tip time scheduled for 5 p.m. MT.
"It just means a lot to go into an arena like this and in an environment like this and be able to compete. So, we know that we can accomplish great things this season and now just have to put in the work and play," Ogbe said in a Kentucky press release.