Utah Valley's second half comeback came up just short as the Wolverines nearly erased an 18-point halftime deficit in an 83-76 setback to Washington State on Wednesday night at Beasley Coliseum.
The loss snaps a four-game win streak for the Wolverines, who fall to 4-2 overall on the season. Washington State improves to 4-3 with the win.
"Washington State got us slowed down in the first half and forced us into not sharing the ball," said Utah Valley head coach Mark Pope. "The way we play is dynamic and fluid. It's a rhythm and a feel. Sometimes it can be elusive. Right now with all of these new players, it comes and goes."
After going into halftime with an 18-point lead, 49-31, Washington State held onto the 18-point advantage, 65-47, with 12:03 remaining in the game. Utah Valley used an 18-5 run during the next six minutes to cut the WSU lead to just five points, 70-65, with 6:40 to play. The two teams traded free throws until WSU took aeight-pointnt lead, 77-69, with 3:25 remaining.
The Wolverines then went on a 7-0 run capped off by a Brandon Randolph dunk to get to within one point, 77-76, with one minute to play. WSU's Josh Hawkinson scored on a layup to put the Cougars back up by three points, 79-76, with 43 seconds to go. UVU had a pair of open looks at a 3-pointer but couldn't get the shots to fall, forcing the Wolverines to foul and send WSU to the free-throw line. The Cougars knocked down all four of their free throws during the final 20 seconds to secure the win.
"As we continue to grow, we will be able to play more minutes the right way," Pope said. "My guys are competitors. They want to play hard and battle. We just have to play the right way for more than seven or eight minutes a game. I have a lot of faith in my guys that they are going to keep fighting and battling. We have to keep growing closer together and need to keep holding on to the right way to play this game. We give our guys a lot of freedom on the floor and we trust them to make a lot of decisions. We need to make decisions that lead us towards playing the right way and not decisions that pull us away from that. It's all part of just growing. We didn't expect this to be easy or clean, but I do think this team has the potential to grow into a really good team. It's just a matter how long it's going to take us and how dedicated we are going to be towards that process."
Kenneth Ogbe led the Wolverines with a team-high 20 points. The junior forward connected on 7-of-11 shots from the field, including a 5-of-8 clip from beyond the arc. He also pulled down six rebounds.
Isaac Neilson and Zach Nelson were also in double figures with 18 and 13 points, respectively. Neilson hit 7-of-13 shots from the floor, including a pair from long range. Neilson also pulled down eight rebounds with two assists and two steals. Nelson knocked down 6-of-7 shots on the night.
Randolph toyed with a triple-double, recording eight points, eight assists and seven steals.
The Wolverines shot 37.3 percent from the field compared to WSU's 50 percent clip. Utah Valley connected on 11 shots from long range, finishing the game with a 30.6 percent clip from three. The Wolverines were out-rebounded, 44-39.
Malachi Flynn led three other Washington State players in double figures with a game-high 27 points.
Utah Valley looks to bounce back on Saturday at the UCCU Center as the team hosts UTSA. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
Jason Erickson works in the communications office at the Utah Valley University athletic department. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.