Utah Valley’s Evan Cole plays hard. According to his head coach, Cole is a player that goes all out but has to be reigned in from time to time. On Friday night at GCU Arena, Cole went all out. The Georgia Tech grad transfer had a game-high 20 points to lead Utah Valley to at least a share of the WAC regular season title with a 59-55 over GCU.
“I’m just proud of the guys,” UVU head coach Mark Madsen said. “I’m just proud of the guys. Our guys fought, they battled. You look at what Evan Cole did out there, 8 for 15, four rebounds, played 34 minutes. Just controlled and was phenomenal. Making plays. Scoring over bigger players. Doing everything he had to do to win the game.”
Trey Woodbury was the only other Wolverine in double figures with 16 points. Fardaws Aimaq had nine points and pulled down another 15 rebounds. Aimaq leads the nation at 15.4 rebounds per game.
“Fardaws .. his rebounding is unprecedented,” Madsen said. “I was proud of Trey Woodbury … there was a stretch there where Grand Canyon made a run, and Trey Woodbury at the point orchestrated some excellent, excellent plays. We’ve grown to expect that from him.”
Alessandro Lever had a team-high 16 points. Mikey Dixon and Oscar Frayer were the other Lopes in double figures with 10 points, respectively.
But it was the Utah Valley defense that got the job done on Friday. The Wolverines held GCU to a season-low 55 points. GCU shot just 39.4 percent from the field and only got to the free throw line three times in the contest. And despite Lever’s efforts, the Lopes couldn’t get over the hump. If GCU scored, Utah Valley had an answer. If GCU got a stop, UVU got a stop on the other end.
Jovan Blacksher Jr. hit a 3-pointer with 13:40 to play that cut the deficit to five. However, Woodbury and Cole went combined to go on an 8-0 run to push the lead back to 13 with 10:30 to play. A little 5-0 spurt cut the deficit to six with 6:28 to play. But, the Lopes just never got over the hump. Oscar Miller-Moore made it a 2-point game with an offensive rebound put-back. But Blaze Nield stepped to the FT line and hit a pair of free throws with four seconds remaining to seal the win.
“It was a well fought out game by both sides,” Madsen said. “It happened to go our way tonight because our guys stepped up tonight.”
Utah Valley’s lead got up to 13 midway through the second half. And the Wolverines held on for dear life to clinch a share of the regular season crown. Utah Valley, at one point, went three minutes without a score. And late in the second half, went another two minutes without points.
“Utah Valley played really good,” GCU head coach Bryce Drew said. “Again, I thought Evan Cole was spectacular. Best we’ve seen him play all year. Shot the ball well … and they really rebounded the basketball.”
Utah Valley had rebounds and 15 offensive boards. Attacking the glass was the difference on Friday night.
“To beat a team like Utah Valley … we have to play a really good game,” Drew said. “And tonight, we did not do that.”
GCU led most of the way early in the game. But, the Lopes last lead came at the 11:52 mark of the first half. Cole hit a 3-pointer to tie the game and UVU never trailed again.
Same two teams play Saturday night. Utah Valley can win the WAC outright or GCU can earn a share of the regular season title.