The 2013-14 home season winds to a close for the Utah Valley University women's basketball team this week when it hosts a pair of Western Athletic Conference contests at the UCCU Center. The Wolverines face Chicago State on Thursday at 7 p.m., before Saturday's home game against Kansas City at 3 p.m.
In recognition of Cancer Prevention Month, Thursday's game against CSU is UVU's annual Pink Game. The first 100 fans to the UCCU Center will receive a free pink t-shirt and proceeds from the game will go toward cancer research. Furthermore, Saturday is Utah Valley's Senior Day. Prior to tipoff with UMKC, the Wolverines will honor the careers of their two senior captains: guards Whitney Jenkins and Kyra Prause.
UVU (4-20, 1-10 WAC) nearly pulled off a pair of WAC upsets last week, taking Seattle U and Idaho to the wire on the road. Trailing by 23 late in the first half against the reigning WAC champion Redhawks, the Wolverines battled all the way back to within one late in the second period before eventually bowing out, 69-65. UVU got a season-high 17 points from Georgia Angew in the loss and 15 points from Jenkins.
The positive momentum carried through into Utah Valley's Saturday meeting with WAC-leader Idaho as the Wolverines nearly handed the Vandals just their second loss in conference. A tight one throughout, UVU and Idaho battled to nine ties and seven lead changes, the final of which came near the five-minute mark when the Vandals regained the lead for good at 56-55. The Wolverines were led by 17 points from Rhaiah Spooner-Knight and 13 from Katie Kuklok in the 69-61 loss.
Spooner-Knight has now reached double figures in 13 consecutive games, upping her season-long scoring average to 11.4 ppg. That figure trails only Kuklok's team-leading 16.4 ppg entering Utah Valley's final five games of the season.
Chicago State (3-21, 0-11 WAC) enters the week still seeking its first-ever WAC win after falling at home to Texas-Pan American and New Mexico State last week. UVU's only WAC win came against its former Great West Conference rival, a 72-46 victory in Chicago on Jan. 25. True freshman Rebecca MaWhinney scored a game-high 15 points in that one as the Wolverines shot 58 percent from the field in the second half on their way to the 26-point victory.
The all-time series with CSU is tied at 8-8, but Utah Valley has won the last four in a row and is seeking its second consecutive season sweep of the Cougars.
"This is a really important game for us, coming in against Chicago State," UVU head coach Cathy Nixon aid. "Obviously we're familiar with CSU and the strengths of this team and their program. They play a high-pressure style of defense and are very athletic and we'll need to play well to beat them."
CSU is led by 13.4 ppg from junior guard Tierra Williams. Sophomore Layne Murphy paces the team on the boards at 7.1 rpg. Murphy scored 12 points in the first meeting with UVU while Williams was limited to just six.
Meanwhile, Kansas City (10-14, 6-5 WAC) enters the week in fourth place in the WAC standings after sweeping UTPA and NM State at home last week. The Kangaroos are on a modest three-game winning streak, a trend they will look to perpetuate when they visit Bakersfield on Thursday prior to their arrival in Orem on Saturday.
Senior forward Kim Nezianya is coming off a monster week for UMKC after averaging 32.0 ppg and 17.5 rpg in two games. She posted 38 points and 21 rebounds against NM State before recording 26 points and 14 rebounds two days later versus UTPA, earning her the WAC Player of the Week award. Nezianya tallied 28 points and hauled in 15 rebounds in the Kangaroos' 83-66 win over Utah Valley on Jan. 23.
At 16.0 ppg, Nezianya is UMKC's second leading scorer. Leading the `Roos in scoring, not to mention the conference, is senior guard Eilise O'Connor and her 21.3 ppg. O'Connor scored 24 previously against UVU, nearly completing a triple-double with eight rebounds and eight assists.
"That duo of Nezianya and O'Connor is very difficult to match up against for any team in the league," Nixon said. "O'Connor is such a handful on the perimeter. She's strong, athletic, heady and skilled. It takes a collective effort to slow her down. And Nezianya is one of the best post players we've seen this season. She's so consistent and effective night in and night out."
Kansas City is the WAC's highest-scoring offense, averaging 75.2 ppg.
Saturday marks the first appearance UMKC has ever made at the UCCU Center and will be the program's first trip to Utah since Jan. 30, 2012, when it traveled to Cedar City to face Southern Utah.
Utah Valley closes the 2013-14 season on the road with three games over the next two weeks. The Wolverines face UTPA and NM State next week before winding things down at Bakersfield on March 8. Those final games set the stage for UVU's first-ever trip to the WAC Tournament, hosted at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on March 12-15.
Kellen Hiser is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.