When the UVU men’s basketball team exploded for a 19-2 run to build a huge first-half lead during Friday’s WAC game against Dixie State at the UCCU Center in Orem, it might have appeared that the Trailblazers were going to go down without a fight.
Not this Dixie State squad — and not with the Old Hammer Rivalry on the line.
The Trailblazers fought back and gave themselves hope heading into halftime, only to have the Wolverines dominate the start of the second half as UVU pulled away to get the 87-72 win.
“Rivalries are made from great teams,” Wolverine head coach Mark Madsen said. “We are working to become a great team and Dixie State is a great team. Their record may not reflect that at this particular point in time but I can tell you any head coach knows how tough, how tenacious and how well-coached they are. We had a little bit of a lead in the first half and Dixie state cut it right down with tenacious play and smart play, forcing us into mistakes. That’s was a good game. You throw on top of that that there’s the geography of it, the St George rivalry with Utah County and it makes for something special for us.”
The Trailblazers only trailed by three points (20-17) when UVU made its big push. To the credit of the visitors, they immediately responded.
DSU closed the first half on a 17-5 push to get the deficit to single-digits and head into the locker room with some momentum on its side.
But Madsen had a clear message for his guys during halftime.
“I reminded them that Dixie State has some players who are tough,” Madsen said. “They showed that tenacity especially during that stretch. Our guys responded well after the half, coming out and making plays. We rebounded the ball much better and I was happy to see us do that.”
The Wolverines scored 12 of the first 14 points in the second half and this time they refused to let the Trailblazers get back within striking distance the rest of the way.
Madsen said there are things to work on — ball security and free-throw shooting still not being where they need to be — but added that the best thing about the performance was how they moved the ball.
“I was really happy with the 27 assists,” Madsen said. “That’s something when you see that as a coach. We have such an unselfish group of guys in the locker room. That was really great to see in terms of the ball movement and the unselfishness.”
The Wolverines had four of their five starters in double-figures for the game, led by 18 points from Trey Woodbury and 17 points from Evan Cole. Fardaws Aimaq had 13 points and 13 rebounds, while Jamison Overton tacked on 12 points and a team-high seven assists.
Dixie State was led by 18 points from Trevon Alfrey, while former Spanish Fork star Hunter Schofield added seven points.
While UVU was able to celebrate a solid victory in the first matchup of the former junior college rivals, Madsen knows it won’t be easy to repeat that success in the rematch on Saturday.
“They made some really good adjustments during the game,” Madsen said. “And I know that they will make a lot more for tomorrow. We’re going to go upstairs and study the tape and come up with some adjustments of our own. We know it’s gonna be finding the right balance on that.”
The Wolverines and Trailblazers are scheduled to play again Saturday night at the UCCU Center in Orem with tipoff scheduled for 6 p.m.