Feb. 22, 2014
OREM, Utah -- Utah Valley University got the scores and the stops it needed down the stretch as it grinded out a 49-43 Western Athletic Conference victory over Kansas City Saturday afternoon at the UCCU Center. It was the second consecutive conference win for the Wolverines who defeated Chicago State 84-62 on Thursday.
Rhaiah Spooner-Knight recorded her second career double-double behind 16 points and 10 rebounds while Katie Kuklok tacked on another 16 points. Sam Loggins controlled the paint for UVU (6-20, 3-10 WAC), finishing the game with eight rebounds and six blocks -- the second most ever recorded in program history.
"We had to go out and beat Kansas City today, they are a good team and we had to go out and beat them," said Utah Valley head coach Cathy Nixon. "I thought we showed a lot of resolve and there was a sense of urgency to get the job done that maybe hasn't been there earlier this season. I'm very proud of the way our kids performed tonight and it was a great win for us."
After erasing a seven-point deficit midway through the second half, UVU went back and forth with UMKC (10-16, 6-7 WAC) over the closing minutes. The final of six ties in the game came at the 2:42 mark when the Eilise O'Connor leveled things at 43-43 with two Kangaroo free throws.
That was the last time UMKC would see a shot fall through the net, though, as the Wolverines pieced together six straight stops to end the game even as it suffered some scoring woes of its own. UVU came up empty on three straight possessions after O'Connor's tying freebie, but the Wolverines came through when it mattered most. With possession out of bounds in front of its own bench with only 36 seconds to go, Georgia Agnew fed an in-bounds pass to Spooner-Knight along the left wing. Faking a handoff to a cutting Agnew, Spooner-Knight fooled all five `Roo defenders and rolled all the way to the cup for a wide-open, go-ahead layup.
"I've got to give a lot of credit to my staff today," Nixon said. "(Associate head coach) Jason Glover drew up a lot of great plays today, including the big one at the end. He's a mastermind on the offensive end and he was the genius behind a lot of the good things we did today."
Spooner-Knight wasn't finished there, however, as she came up big on the ensuing UMKC possession. Trying to go one-on-one for the tying bucket, O'Connor was forced into a fallaway jumper that ricocheted high off the back iron. As the ball descended into a crowd of players in the paint, Spooner-Knight's arms rose above the rest as she snatched what proved to be the decisive rebound.
Kuklok and Spooner-Knight then combined to go a perfect 4-of-4 from the foul line in the closing seconds to ice the Wolverines' second win in a row.
Kuklok scored 13 of her 16 points in the second half, going a perfect 7-for-7 from the free throw line and knocking down a big 3-pointer to pull UVU to within a possession when it trailed early in the period.
"Those two pieced together a lot of the possessions that I think really made the difference for us today," said Nixon. "Katie kept us in it with some big shots and heady plays and Rhaiah really stepped up at the end."
The final home game of the season, the win also sends Utah Valley's two senior captains out with a bang as the duo donned the home whites in the UCCU Center for the final time. Whitney Jenkins, who finished the game with four points, and Kyra Prause were honored in a pregame ceremony. Jenkins is wrapping up a four-year career for the Wolverines while Prause is in her fifth season after redshirting in 2012-13.
"I see their stamp over everything we do as a program," Nixon said of her senior duo. "Their level of work and expectation in the offseason has changed our program. Their influence is felt everyday at practice and both on and off the court just with the standard they hold themselves and their teammates to. They've taken this young team under their wings and shown them what it means to be a Wolverine."
UVU Womens Basketball Senior Recognition from WolverineGreen on Vimeo.
UMKC was led by 18 points and 14 rebounds from senior forward Kim Nezianya. O'Connor finished with 12 points and seven rebounds. The combination of Nezianya and O'Connor combined for 52 points in these two teams' initial meeting in Kansas City this season.
UVU led for much of the first half and took a 19-18 lead into the halftime break. But a four-minute scoring drought to begin the second half allowed the `Roos to regain the advantage for the first time since leading 2-0 to open the game. That advantage would grow to as many as seven at 33-26 before the Wolverines countered with an 11-2 run to get back in front.
Nine of those 11 points came from Kuklok who followed Spooner-Knight's rally-igniting jumper with her lone 3-pointer in the game. From there, the sophomore hit four straight free-throws and capped the run with a layup inside to put UVU ahead 37-35 with 8:39 to go.
Coming off a career-best 21 points against Chicago State, Loggins finished Saturday's contest with just four points. However, the senior came up with six rebounds and swatted away six Kangaroo field goal attempts, including a crucial rejection of Nezianya at the 2:11 mark with the score knotted at 43-all.
Utah Valley will finish the regular season on the road as it begins a stretch of three consecutive games next week. The Wolverines will face New Mexico State and former Great West Conference rival Texas-Pan American on Thursday and Saturday, respectively, before ending the year at Bakersfield the following Saturday.