After a tightly contested opening half, the Utah Valley University men's basketball team used a 49-17 advantage in the second half to claim a 75-42 victory over CSU Bakersfield in the first WAC game of the season on Saturday night at the UCCU Center.
With the win, the Wolverines improved their record to 12-5 overall on the season and 1-0 in conference play. The win stretched UVU's winning streak to five games and snapped a six-game winless streak against CSUB. Utah Valley won the rebounding battle of the night, 33-28, and scored 20 points off turnovers compared to just eight for Bakersfield. The Wolverines also boasted a 48 percent mark from the field, while the Roadrunners hit just 33 percent of their shots.
"This is a big win for us because we were 0-5 against Bakersfield during my tenure here, including that awful loss in the WAC tournament last year," said UVU head coach Mark Pope. "I was really proud of our team tonight because everything went wrong with players being out and things going sideways in the first half. But our guys came back from it and were tough. I couldn't be more pleased with the win; it was big."
Both teams struggled to get on the scoreboard early as the total was locked at 3-3 through five minutes in the first half. Kenneth Ogbe knocked down a three to get Utah Valley going from the field. Out of the timeout, Brandon Randolph hit a contested layup, and Conner Toolson drilled a three in transition to spark a quick, 7-0 run.
After a 9-0 run from CSU Bakersfield gave it the lead, Jerrelle DeBerry and Ben Nakwaasah came off the bench to reignite the Wolverine offense with consecutive baskets. Isaac Neilson then joined in on the bench production with a layup of his own to give UVU a one-point lead with just more than nine minutes to play in the half.
Neilson's bucket started another 7-0 run for Utah Valley, which included a three from Jake Toolson. CSUB tied the game with a 7-2 stretch, but DeBerry knocked down a three on the next possession to put the Wolverines up. A pair of free throws from the Runners trimmed UVU's lead to one and made the score 26-25 heading into the halftime break.
Utah Valley used a balanced-scoring effort in the opening half, but DeBerry and Ogbe led the way with five apiece. Like the point totals, UVU's rebounding was balanced in the first half, while Conner Toolson and Jake Toolson pulled down three boards each. Randolph's four assists led the Wolverines. Conner Toolson also grabbed two steals.
Out of the gate in the second half, Utah Valley started hot with a 16-2 run to open up a 15-point lead. The run spanned the first eight minutes and two seconds of the half. Randolph led the burst for the Wolverines with six points, including a three as the shot clock expired.
UVU continued its hot streak as the next stretch of the game featured a 15-5 run from the Wolverines, capped by back-to-back threes from the Toolson cousins. Utah Valley continued to steadily build its lead, and with just less than two minutes to play, Utah Valley claimed its largest lead, 33 points, on a free throw from DeBerry.
Jake Toolson led the way for UVU in scoring and rebounding with 15 points and seven rebounds. Randolph followed closely with 13 points on a 5-of-7 clip from the field while pulling down four rebounds and dishing out four assists. DeBerry contributed a solid 12 points off the bench on a 7-of-8 mark from the charity stripe, and Ogbe put in 11 points on a perfect 4-of-4 clip from the free-throw line. Conner Toolson scored 10 points on the night while grabbing five rebounds, and Neilson scored eight points as well.
Up next for Utah Valley is another home contest, this time with WAC foe UMKC on Thursday, Jan. 11. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. MST, and live video will be available via UVU TV and the WAC Digital Network. The game can also be listened to live on ESPN 960 AM. UVU will then play host to Chicago State on Saturday, Jan. 13, to close out its homestand.