OREM — There is a reason that the CSU Bakersfield Roadrunners are the defending Western Athletic Conference tournament champions and currently sit in first place in the conference standings. Thursday night in the UCCU Center, they showed why.
Matt Smith scored a game-high 18 points and Damiyne Durham chipped in with 16 off the bench to help the Roadrunners pick up an 80-71 win over the Wolverines. It was the seventh straight win for the Roadrunners, who improved to 18-7 overall and 9-1 in the WAC. UVU dropped to 11-14 overall and 3-7 in the conference.
"I can't say enough about this Cal State Bakersfield team," UVU head coach Mark Pope said. "Man, they're really, really impressive. So much of that credit goes to Coach (Rod Barnes). … They have a collection of good players that make a great team. I've got so much admiration for Coach. What he's done is really extraordinary, and the players that he has done it with are really extraordinary."
CSU Bakersfield jumped out to an 11-3 lead in the first half as UVU didn't hit a field goal until Conner Toolson scored on a layup at the 13:09 mark.
UVU kept the game close throughout the first half and got the deficit down to two points following two free throws from Jordan Poydras at the 3:48 mark.
But UVU just couldn't get any closer throughout the night. The Roadrunners went on an 11-1 run to take a 38-26 lead into halftime.
The second half was almost identical to the first half. Poydras scored two of his team-high 15 points just 17 seconds into the half, but CSU Bakersfield responded with a dunk from Moataz Aly.
Back and forth they went. UVU was able to cut the deficit to four on back-to-back 3-pointers from Toolson, who finished with 14 points and four rebounds, and a 3-pointer from Jared Stutzman that made it 58-54 at the 7:33 mark.
However, once again, CSU Bakersfield went on a 12-0 run over the next four minutes to put the game out of reach.
"We got it down to a two-point game with five minutes left in the first half and then immediately after the four-point deficit (in the second half), things got really out of hand," Pope said. "We had some frustration. We gave up a transition dunk. We gave up a shot to one of their best shooters. We turned the ball over. … In that quick span, it ballooned to a 12-point lead, and we just never could get over the hump."
Jaylin Airington and Shon Briggs were the other Roadrunners to finish in double figures with 14 and 13 points, respectively. Brandon Randolph finished with 10 points, six rebounds and five assists on the night for UVU.
CSU Bakersfield shot 55 percent from the field and outrebounded UVU 35-29. The Wolverines shot 45 percent on the night and were 12-of-31 from beyond the arc but never could hit the shot or make the play to take the lead.
"Right now, in terms of a team, they are as good as you're going to find," Pope said of the Roadrunners. "In terms of playing as a team and guys knowing who they are and playing to their strengths, guys sharing it for each other and playing as hard as they can, they're really impressive."
UVU will be back Saturday night to host Grand Canyon at the UCCU Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. MST. Grand Canyon beat UVU 83-72 in Phoenix on Jan. 7.
Kyle McDonald is sports fan who loves the Chicago Cubs. He is a communication major at UVU and will graduate in the spring of 2017. Follow him on Twitter at @kylesportsbias