Big men dominate
Yes, Evan Cole made this dunk over Gorjok Gak to help Utah Valley earn a series sweep to open WAC play. Courtesy UVU Athletics.
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Big Men Are Key in Conference Opening Series Sweeps

It seems like the WAC is going to be a conference heavy on some very good big men. Or at least, the big men in the paint will carry the day for their respective teams. 

And both Grand Canyon and Utah Valley have some of the best. Just ask Tarleton State and California Baptist. Tarleton State head coach Billy Gillispie is probably happy he never has to face Asbjørn Midtgaard or Gabe McGlothan again. CBU is probably happy that they won’t have to see Fardaws Aimaq and Evan Cole again. 

Seriously, the big men were key in both Utah Valley and Grand Canyon picking up series sweeps on this conference-opening weekend of WAC Hoops. 

Utah Valley 81, California Baptist 77

The game plan was almost perfect for CBU on Saturday night. Pack the paint, box out, and make Utah Valley hit outside shots. ALMOST perfect. But, the Wolverines went 8-13 from beyond the arc and really forced the Lancers out of the game plan. 

Fardaws Aimaq and Evan Cole were huge for the Wolverines. Cole gave Utah Valley a spark in the second half. After CBU opened the second frame on a 7-0 run and had Utah Valley on the ropes, it was Cole to the rescue.

The Georgia Tech transfer hit back-to-back 3-pointers to end the run and keep Utah Valley in the game. And down the stretch, it was Aimaq and Cole who carried the Wolverines to the series sweep over CBU. Aimaq scored eight of Utah Valley’s final 10 points in the contest, including four straight free throws to seal the deal.

For the first time since 2017, Utah Valley had two player with double-doubles in the same game. And of course, it was the Utah Valley big men. Aimaq had a team-high 23 points and 16 rebounds. Cole had 14 points and 11 rebounds. The more impressive part of this? Well, this duo combined for 29 second-half points and 14 of Utah Valley’s 17 second-half rebounds.  

Here is the problem. And California Baptist found this out the hard way. If you try to pack the paint to stop Aimaq and Cole, you put yourself at risk. Yes, coming into the weekend, Utah Valley was shooting just 30 percent from 3-point land. But, that sure wasn’t the case on Saturday night. Trey Woodbury, Le’Tre Darthard, Cole and Blaze Nield hit timely 3-pointers in the second half for the Wolverines.

Add in Mr. Highlight Reel Jamison Overton having another big night, and Utah Valley has weapons all over the floor. 

California Baptist played a much better game on Saturday night. Perhaps the biggest moment in the game was when point guard Ty Rowell fouled out with just over six minutes left. The floor general wasn’t on the floor in the waning minutes. Reed Nottage and company continued to battle but it ultimately wasn’t enough. CBU will be back. Head coach Rick Croy not roaming the sidelines may have had an impact. Either way, the adjustments that CBU made after a 27-point blowout the night before was what you like to see. 

CBU is at Tarleton State next week while Utah Valley travels to the Pacific Northwest to take on Seattle. 

Grand Canyon 59, Tarleton State 48

It wasn’t pretty, but Grand Canyon got it done this weekend, twice. Tarleton State threw Grand Canyon just about everything they could handle, and the ‘Lopes survived. Friday night’s game was a barn burner that went down to the wire. Saturday night’s game wasn’t nearly as frenetic but was still close until Grand Canyon pulled away in the last two minutes. It was obvious that there was some fatigue in the second game. There were stretches were both teams played sluggish. 

The big men had a major impact again. 7-footer Asbjørn Midtgaard played the hero for Grand Canyon this weekend. He averaged a double-double this series, posting 18.5 points per game and grabbing 10 rebounds per game. In addition, Midtgaard set the new record for blocks in a game tonight with five! Billy Gillispie didn’t have an answer for the Wichita State transfer. In the win tonight, senior forward Oscar Frayer scored 12 points and hit some timely threes for the ‘Lopes. 

What might be most impressive from the ‘Lopes sweep though is that they did it without Jovan Blacksher Jr. and Alessandro Lever. Now, these two both played in both games, but they were far from leaving their mark on either game. All great teams have players that can step up and contribute when the stars are struggling. And Grand Canyon had that this weekend. If Blacksher Jr. and Lever can return to form, the ‘Lopes will be rolling. 

Tarleton State reminds me a lot of last year’s Kansas City team. The Texans are well coached and they love to play scrappy. They’re going to make teams earn it. Montre’ Gipson cooled off a bit tonight after his career game 24 hours ago. However, it was his teammate Jonathan Jackson who led the Texans tonight. Jackson, the lone senior on this young Texans squad, knocked down 14 points in the effort. Keep an eye on the partnership of Montre’ Gipson and Jonathan Jackson.

Another name to watch from Tarleton State is true freshman guard Freddy Hicks. He scored nine points and pulled down nine rebounds. Unfortunately, foul trouble limited his minutes. It’s early, but he may emerge as a Freshman of the Year candidate. 

The Texans are going to be tough. Just ask Bryce Drew and Grand Canyon. With the series sweep, Grand Canyon jumps out to a 2-0 start in conference play. Despite the Texans best efforts, they drop to 0-2 in conference play.

Grand Canyon will have to wait two weeks, but next up for the ‘Lopes is a trip to St. George, Utah to take on Dixie State. Tarleton State will travel to California Baptist next weekend. 

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