Las Vegas • While Washington was holding off Colorado in the Pac-12 conference tournament across town Friday night, a former Husky was making life miserable for Utah Valley.
Wearing a different shade of purple, junior guard Carlos Johnson scored a career-high 35 points — including 6-of-8 shooting from 3-point range — and Grand Canyon ousted the Wolverines 78-74 in the WAC tournament semifinals at Orleans Arena.
Third-seeded Grand Canyon (20-12) will play No. 1 seed New Mexico State at 8 p.m. MDT for the tournament title and the conference’s automatic bid into the Big Dance. Johnson has now scored 66 points in two tournament games and gone 10 of 16 from beyond the arc.
“Once you are feeling it, the rim just keeps getting bigger,” said Johnson, who played his senior year of high school basketball at Las Vegas’ Findlay Prep. “It felt good, coming back here to Orleans Arena.”
Second-seeded Utah Valley finished with a 24-9 record.
Grand Canyon 78, Utah Valley 74
• Washington transfer Carlos Johnson scores a career-high 35 points for Grand Canyon
• BYU transfer Jake Toolson, the WAC’s Player of the Year, is held to seven points for the second-straight game
• Utah Valley finishes with a 24-9 record in coach Mark Pope’s fourth year
“We are incredibly disappointed,” said UVU coach Mark Pope. “It was not the outcome we were looking for.”
Johnson, who was averaging 14.2 points, out-dueled UVU’s Jake Toolson, the WAC Player of the Year. The BYU transfer was held to seven points on 3-of-11 shooting. Conner Toolson, Jake’s cousin, led the Wolverines with 16 points, while Richard Harward and Baylee Steele added 12 apiece.
“He’s a talented player and he’s really feeling it right now,” Pope said of Johnson, originally from Centralia, Ill. “We didn’t have an answer for him tonight.”
Pope also lamented the final few minutes when the Wolverines got defensive stops, but gave up offensive rebounds. GCU got 11 of its 14 offensive rebounds in the second half.
“In the last six-minute stretch we just couldn’t get a defensive rebound and sometimes that happens,” Pope said.
The Wolverines also faltered offensively down the stretch, and got no help from the officials as whistles went silent on both ends the final few minutes.
Conner Toolson made a 3-pointer with 3:38 remaining to pull the Wolverines within one, 73-72, but a missed 3-pointer, a shot clock violation, a turnover and another missed 3-pointer thwarted UVU’s next four possessions.
Jake Toolson went 0 for 4 and did not score in the second half.
Oscar Frayer’s rebound basket with three minutes remaining gave the Lopes a 75-72 lead, and UVU didn’t make a field goal after Conner Toolson’s trey until one second remained.
Utah Valley and Grand Canyon split games in the regular season, each team winning on its own floor.
Johnson looked unstoppable from the start, and GCU rolled out to a 17-10 lead; Johnson was 5 of 5 from 3-point range in the first half en route to to 21 points before the break.
Former Weber High star Hayden Schenck slowed Johnson down a bit in the latter part of the first half, which coincided with a UVU run, but Johnson picked up where he left off in the final 20 minutes.
“Our guys put their heart and soul out there on the floor,” Pope said. “That’s why they are hurting so much.”