For about the first seven minutes of Tuesday night’s season-opener against Westminster at the UCCU Center in Orem, the UVU men’s basketball team looked like it would struggle to get head coach Mark Madsen a win in his first game.
Then Wolverine junior guard Isaiah White got rolling.
White scored 10 points during a game-changing 20-2 UVU run that turned a 15-6 deficit into a 26-17 lead and the home team never trailed again. White finished with 25 points as the Wolverines pulled away to get the 72-55 victory over the Griffins.
“We got off to a little bit of a slow start but after those first five or six minutes, the ball was moving and people were making each other better,” Madsen said. “Our defense turned up another notch. Isaiah White gave us a huge boost, on the glass and attacking the rim. Everyone who stepped on the court did a nice job for UVU.”
White said it just took a little while for UVU to find its rhythm.
“Everyone has jitters,” White said. “It’s a new team and a new coach, so we’re trying to get a feel of what is going on. We were trying to get the season started off right but I think we came out kind of hesitant at first. Then we got going, got comfortable, and it was history after that.”
The Wolverines bombed away from beyond the arc but missed their first 13 3-point attempts. UVU ended up going 8-of-31 (25.8 percent) from downtown.
“I think the biggest thing with shooters — and we have shooters on this team — is keeping them aggressive,” Madsen said. “I told a couple of guys to keep shooting. I think we shot roughly 35 or 36 percent on 3-pointers in the second half. I was happy the guys did not get tentative.”
White is confident that this Wolverine squad is going to get to the point where it will consistently knock down those shots.
“We all can shoot and we all can play.” White said. “It was just a matter of getting the jitters out. Everyone is trying to get the feel. It’s different from practicing for six months to game time.”
The other top scorer for UVU was junior guard Brandon Averette, who came to the Wolverines from Oklahoma State. He tacked on 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting.
“Anyone who has been in the practice gym knows how great of a player Brandon Averette is,” Madsen said. “There is going to be a process for everyone. Brandon hasn’t played in a game in over a year because he had to sit out. Once he found his rhythm in the second half, he was as aggressive as I’ve ever seen him. Thing is, he is even better than he showed tonight.”
Madsen was pleased with the defensive effort for UVU as the Wolverines held Westminster to 20-of-57 shooting (35.1 percent) while also blocking 10 shots.
“I thought our big guys did a nice job,” Madsen said. “Between Brandon Morley and Emmanuel (Olojakpoke), we had 10 blocks — five each. They did a nice job controlling the paint and making the adjustments we were asking for.”
When the team was having a tough time getting going in the first half, Olojakpoke — a senior forward who transfered from Akron — came off the bench and gave the Wolverines a big boost with his energy and offensive rebounding.
“Nobody could keep E-man off the boards,” Madsen said. “He was going to the boards in a relentless way and was refusing to be boxed out. He was either getting up a shot or shoving the ball back out so we could get another offensive set. I was really proud of him the way he played.”
The Griffins were led by junior guard Brandon Warr, who scored 11 points.
Former Salem Hills star Daniel Quensenberry finished with five points for Westminster, while former Springville star Brad Kitchen got in and scored a layup for UVU.
While the Wolverines were happy with the win, they know they have a lot to improve on.
“We got the first win out of the way and now it is back to the drawing board,” Madsen said. “Early on our communication was bad. We’ll talk about that, work on it, rep it and we’ll improve on it.”
UVU (1-0) now heads on the road to play at Denver on Saturday at 1 p.m.