No. 2 seed Utah Valley holds off UMKC 71-64, advances to WAC semifinals

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Valley Wolverines head coach Mark Pope during a time out when the Wolverine were within two. University of Utah defeated Utah Valley University 87-80 during their non-conference game Tuesday, December 6, 2016 at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.

Las Vegas • Utah Valley missed 13 consecutive 3-point attempts and scored only one basket in a 14-minute stretch of a Western Athletic Conference quarterfinal game.

The Wolverines won, thanks partly to reserve center Richard Harward's scoring four points in five seconds Thursday night at Orleans Arena. Harward's flurry of two free throws and a rebound basket, aided by an away-from-the-ball foul that enabled UVU to keep possession, sent the Wolverines ahead to stay in a 71-64 win over Missouri-Kansas City.

No. 2 seed UVU (24-8) will meet the Grand Canyon-Seattle winner in Friday's semifinals. The Wolverines have never played in the WAC championship game in their previous five years of membership. They came perilously came to an early exit Thursday, before coming through in the end. “These games just come down to guts,” said UVU coach Mark Pope.

“There's a reason these guys have won eight straight games; their poise and composure,” said UMKC coach Kareem Richardson.

UVU senior guard Conner Toolson scored 21 points, while awaiting the potential news of his wife's giving birth, and the Wolverines delivered some clutch plays. UVU would have been in trouble without a big lift from Harward, who scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half and finished with eight rebounds.

Harward “in a large sense, saved our season,” Pope said.

UVU had beaten the Roos by eight points on the road and by 12 in Orem in the regular season. This game became a struggle, after the Wolverines led 35-26 late in the first half. UMKC scored the last 11 points of the half, then extended the lead to 49-40 with barely more than 10 minutes remaining.

“We were in a bad spot, man,” Pope said. “We had no momentum, we couldn't score, we were really stagnant.”

Harward scored seven straight UVU points to pull his team within 52-51, and game went back and forth for a long period. Toolson's 3-pointer broke UVU's long drought from outside and tied the game, but the Roos' Xavier Bishop (17 points) put his team back in front. UVU guard Jake Toolson, the WAC Player of the Year, made only his second basket of the game, and then Harward's four-point sequence came at just the right time for the Wolverines.

“These guys have been working on the togetherness to do this for a whole year, and it paid off tonight,” Pope said.

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