LAS VEGAS (ABC4 Sports) - Utah Valley is two wins away from its first NCAA Tournament appearance.
Jake Toolson led the way with 19 points while his cousin Conner Toolson dropped in 18 of his own to lead the Utah Valley University men's basketball team to an 81-74 WAC Tournament quarterfinal victory over CSU Bakersfield on Thursday afternoon at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
With the win, UVU moved to 22-9 for the season and advances to the semifinals of the WAC Tournament where it will face third-seeded Grand Canyon. A win tomorrow would propel the Wolverines to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history.
"I couldn't be more proud of our guys," head coach Mark Pope said. "This Bakersfield team has changed the whole tempo of our league and has dominated it for the past two years. We're really proud of this win because we knew it was going to be really hard. My guys stepped up and were incredibly tough and relentless, and we're excited to advance one more round in this tournament."
UVU outrebounded the Roadrunners 39-27 for the game and assisted on 20 of 25 made baskets.
The Wolverines started fast as Akolda Manyang blocked Bakersfield's first shot of the game, which led to a three by Conner Toolson on the other end. Jake Toolsen followed with a reverse lay in and Manyang got going offensively with a three-point play. The Roadrunners responded with a quick 7-0 run to take a four-point lead.
Ben Nakwaasah then came off the bench to hit three-consecutive shots from downtown and put Utah Valley back on top. UVU proceeded to shift its focus down low as Jake Toolson put it back-to-back layups as part of a 13-2 burst. Kenneth Ogbe's first bucket of the day, a three, capped the run.
Utah Valley continued its rhythm on offense as Zach Nelson checked in to lay in three-straight shots and stretch the Wolverines' lead to 15. Five quick points from Bakersfield made it a 10-point game, but Jake Toolson hit a deep three and found Nelson for another layup as UVU held onto its double-digit lead heading into halftime with the score 43-31. Jake Toolson and Nakwaasah led the Wolverines in scoring in the first half with nine apiece. Nelson also added eight off the bench.
Bakersfield came out of the locker room fighting as it strung together a 9-3 run and trimmed the deficit down to six. Brandon Randolph hit a shot to temporarily stop the bleeding for the Wolverines, but the 'Runners continued chipping away and made it a two-point game. UVU's offense would finally get going as Conner Toolson knocked down a three and Manyang tipped in a basket.
Despite Utah Valley's lead, it could not pull away as Bakersfield made it a four-point game with just over three minutes to play. Conner Toolson again came up clutch with a three to give the Wolverines some breathing room, and Jake Toolson hit a pair from the charity tripe to push the lead back up to twelve. The Roadrunners made one final push and cut the deficit to seven, but the Wolverines knocked down their free throws and closed out the victory.
The Wolverines now face Grand Canyon tomorrow night in the WAC semifinal with an appearance in the championship game on the line. Tip-off is slated for 6 p.m. PT/7 p.m. MT.
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