Senior guards Mariah Seals and Taylor Christensen sparked the Utah Valley offense with a combined 37 points and 10 assists, helping the Wolverines roll to their third-straight win, 69-60, against UT Rio Grande Valley on Thursday inside Lockhart Arena.
The UVU (9-10, 3-1 WAC) backcourt leaders played a role in 60 Wolverine points on the day, as Seals tallied a game-high 19 points and seven assists and Christensen tacked on 18 points and three assists. Meanwhile, the Wolverines added an assist on 21 of their 24 made field goals to cap their best start to conference play through four games since joining the WAC in 2013-14.
"I thought the girls adapted pretty well," said Utah Valley head coach Cathy Nixon. "We came out a little slow in the beginning, but I really liked how we locked down defensively. I thought the third was one of our better quarters this year and we held them to nine points. I felt like we played well and had a balanced effort, and it's great to get a win to start out this tough weekend."
After taking a 35-31 halftime lead, UVU came out firing in the second half with a 13-3 run to start the third quarter that included five points from Christensen. A Christensen three from the right corner assisted by sophomore forward Jordan Holland, paired with junior guard Britta Spencer's driving layup and baseline jumper, helped the Wolverines grab a 48-36 lead.
Following a short-lived offensive spurt by UTRGV (10-9, 0-4 WAC), Seals connected on her third three of the day off a skip pass from Spencer to guide another 6-0 UVU run in the final 2:22 of the third period. On its next possession, Christensen added another two-point jumper in the lane to give the squad a 56-40 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
During their breakaway third period, the Wolverines provided limited spacing for the Vaquero shooters by holding them to only four field goals on 30.8 percent shooting. It marked the fourth-consecutive game UVU kept an opposing offense to four baskets or less in a period.
"I think we've come to understand what it means to play as a team," said Seals, who tied former Wolverine and All-American Robyn Fairbanks for most career starts at UVU. "We understand that when we dig down deep on defense that our offense will come, so every practice we've been working hard to get better on defense. I know we shot well today, but the defense has been the most critical thing for us."
Along with their strong defending, Utah Valley exploded for a 66.7 percent shooting clip on 8-of-12 shooting from the floor. Their pinpoint accuracy helped the Wolverines tie for their best shooting percentage at home in a period this season.
At the start of the fourth quarter, Seals and Christensen then sealed their fate with eight-straight UVU points en route to 10 of the squad's 13 points in the period. Seals hit two straight 3-pointers during that stretch and Christensen knocked down her sixth and final field goal on the day to help the Wolverines take off with the victory.
Behind its stifling defense, Utah Valley also kept its opponent to 60 points or less for the third game in a row. During that stretch, the Wolverines have outscored their opponents by an average margin of 18 points.
UTRGV battled with a 16-8 run in the final 7:54 of the day sparked by 11 points from junior forward Krisynthia Sampson, before its late comeback attempt fell short due to time. Sampson began the Vaquero run by sinking a pair of two-point jumpers and a layup as part of a late push that brought them to within nine points of UVU in the end.
The Vaqueros got off to an early 7-2 lead with 7:02 left in the first on a Quynne Huggins three3pointer from the left wing. Moments later, sophomore guard Megan Johnson added a layup in transition to put UTRGV ahead 9-2.
UVU took its first lead on the Vaqueros at 10-9 with a 9-1 scoring surge led by four made free throws by Spencer and Seals. Sophomore forward Alexis Cortez poured in a layup and Christensen hit her first three from the left side for the Wolverines' early go-ahead points.
The Wolverines wll continue their short two-game homestand Saturday when they play host to three-time defending WAC Champion New Mexico State. Tipoff from Lockhart Arena is set for 3 p.m. MT.