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Utah Valley men’s hoops claims first-ever SoCal Challenge Championship

By Daily Herald - | Nov 24, 2021

Utah Valley's Fardaws Aimaq (11) battles for position against a pair of Nicholls State players at the Sunshine Slam Tournament in Kissimmee, Fla., on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021. (UVU Courtesy Photo)

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, Calif. – Six Wolverines scored in double figures as Utah Valley sprinted out to an early lead and held off Nicholls State, 74-63, to claim the first-ever SoCal Challenge championship. Fardaws Aimaq was named Tournament MVP and Aimaq and Connor Harding were both named to the All-Tournament team.

With the win, UVU improves to 5-1, extending its winning streak to five games. The five-game win streak marks the longest streak since 2019 and the longest of the Madsen era. The 5-1 mark is the best six-game start to a season in UVU history, surpassing the 2016-17 team that opened the season with a 4-1 record before dropping its sixth game.

The Wolverines got off to another blistering start, beginning the game with an 16-0 and holding the Colonels scoreless for the first seven minutes of the game. After Nicholls State hit a midrange jumper, UVU ripped off another 11-0 run as Utah Valley went up 35-8 with 7:15 to go in the opening half. Following a 9-2 run by NSU, Blaze Nield hit an and-one floater to push the lead back out to 40-17. Justin Harmon drove the lane for a layup just before the buzzer as the Wolverines took a 44-22 advantage into the break.

Nicholls State came out hot in the second half, using a 13-3 run to trim the lead down to 47-35 with 15:15 to go in the second half. Tim Fuller scored the next six points of the game to extend the lead back out to 53-35, but the Colonels ripped of a 9-0 run to make it a 53-44 game with 9:48 to go. Tim Ceaser got a put back to go to stop the run and Le’Tre Darthard hit three free throws to put UVU back up, 58-46, with 7:41 to go in the game. Aimaq had a hug put back and Harding and Nield were able to ice the game away from the free throw line, giving UVU the 74-63 victory.

Aimaq led the Wolverines with another double-double, finishing with 10 points, 16 rebounds and a pair of blocks. Connor Harding chipped in 13 points, on a perfect 6 of 6 from the charity stripe, four rebounds, and four assists. Nield tallied 13 points, on a perfect 5 of 5 from the line, and a team-high five assists while Darthard added 12 points. Fuller nearly had a double-double, finishing with 10 points and eight rebounds while Ceaser scored 10 points and collected five rebounds off the bench.

The Wolverines shot 43 percent from the field and 22-24 from the foul line. UVU outrebound the Colonels, 45-36, leading to a 17-13 advantage in second-chance points and 34-24 advantage in points in the paint. The six Wolverines in double figures is the most in a game since Jan. 26, 2019 against Chicago State.

The Wolverines return home for a matchup with Denver on Saturday, Nov. 27, in the UCCU Center. The game is set to tip at 3:00 p.m. MT and will be broadcasted on ESPN+ and ESPN 960 AM. Utah Valley then takes on in-state rival #18 BYU in the UCCU Crosstown Clash on Wednesday, Dec. 1, in the UCCU Center. Tip is set for 7:00 p.m. MT and will be broadcasted ESPN+, BYUtv, and ESPN 960 AM.

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