Utah Valley University seeks its first-ever WAC win, not to mention its first road win of the 2013-14 season, when it travels to Phoenix to face fellow WAC newcomer Grand Canyon at 2 p.m. on Saturday at the GCU Arena. The game is just the second-ever meeting between UVU and GCU and the first since the Antelopes made their jump to Division I on July 1, 2013.
"Grand Canyon built such a strong program at the Division II level and we knew that they would be good when they made the jump into the WAC," Utah Valley head coach Cathy Nixon said. "Their roster is full of DI transfers and kids that have experience at this level. They have had a great start to this season and, just like everyone else, they are anxious to do well in the WAC. They'll be ready for us and we've got to go on the road prepared to compete."
GCU (12-4, 1-2 WAC) posted the conference's best non-conference mark when it closed the 2013 portion of its schedule with an 11-2 record. Included in that glossy start were wins over the likes of North Texas (67-65), Nevada (75-55), East Carolina (86-76) and Hawai'i (54-51). Those impressive victories sent the `Lopes to the top of the WAC standings prior to the start of league play and even earned them a ranking as high as No. 20 in the CollegeInsider.com Women's Mid-Major Top 25.
Starting WAC play on the road, Grand Canyon suffered a pair of setbacks to Texas-Pan American and New Mexico State last weekend. Both games were close, though, as the `Lopes were nipped in Edinburg, 60-58, before falling, 66-63, in Las Cruces — results that came in the wake of injuries to three starters, including Preseason All-WAC selection Judy Jones who will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL.
GCU bounced back Thursday night, though, picking up a 78-64 win over Bakersfield in its home WAC opener.
Jones averaged 13.5 points per game and a team-leading 8.5 rebounds per game prior to the injury. However, GCU is not without other weapons as three other Antelopes average in double figures. Kaitlyn Petersen, a Gonzaga transfer, paces the team at 14.6 ppg. Meanwhile, Deanna Daniels and Johnna Brown — both transfers from Dixie State in St. George — average 12.3 and 11.8 ppg, respectively.
UVU (3-11, 0-1 WAC) opened conference play at home last weekend with a narrow 61-59 defeat at the hands of CSUB. A game of runs, the Wolverines used a 19-3 spurt early in the second half to grab a 47-41 advantage with 10 minutes to play. But it was the visiting Roadrunners that scored the crucial buckets down the stretch, including a pair of 3-pointers with less than 90 seconds to play, to steal the road victory.
Rhaiah Spooner-Knight posted the first double-double of her career Saturday, recording 14 points to go along with 11 rebounds. The true freshman out of Hamilton, New Zealand, has averaged a team-leading 18.3 ppg over the last three contests. Tina Doughty also reached double figure scoring with 11 points, and Georgia Angew matched a season-high with eight assists.
Katie Kuklok, who missed the WAC-opener with an injury, continues to lead the team in scoring at 19.6 ppg — a figure that ranks second in the WAC. Doughty has scored at a 12.6 ppg rate, while Spooner-Knight is nearing a double figure average at 9.6 ppg.
"In the pursuit of a conference championship, first and foremost you want to defend your home court," Nixon said. "We let one get away from us last week so that puts a little more pressure on us to go on the road and steal one. Obviously, the conference season is just getting started. But here at the start where we're all jockeying for position, you've got to go on the road and beat people."
The only time the Wolverines have gone toe-to-toe with Grand Canyon came during the 2005-06 season while the `Lopes still competed at the DII level. UVU came away with a 56-43 win in that one with former guard Hollie Beaman leading the Wolverines with 11 points.
After its quick jaunt down to Phoenix, Utah Valley returns to the UCCU Center for its next pair of WAC contests. The Vandals of Idaho will roll into Orem on Thursday, Jan. 16, while the Seattle U Redhawks will be on hand the following Saturday, Jan. 18.
Kellen Hiser is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.