Trey Woodbury's return sparks Utah Valley to WAC Tourney opening win

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LAS VEGAS — Turns out, the WAC Defensive Player of the Year is pretty good on offense, too.

Fardaws Aimaq poured in 20 points and six rebounds, and BYU transfer Blaze Nield added 12 points and six assists as Utah Valley opened the Western Athletic Conference Tournament with a 69-47 win Tuesday night over Chicago State at Michelob ULTRA Arena.

Justin Harmon added 7 points and seven rebounds for the Wolverines (20-11), who advanced to face Abilene Christian in Tuesday's second round. Tipoff from the Orleans Arena is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. MST on ESPN+.

Jahsean Corbett had a game-high 21 points and eight rebounds to lead Chicago State (7-25), and Brandon Betson added 12 points and four rebounds.

"For me, It just comes down to knowing this might be my last go-around in college basketball," said Aimaq, who leads the nation with 26 double-doubles and 10.83 defensive rebounds per game. "But I love to play the game of basketball, and to play with my brothers. Trey Woodbury playing tonight lit a fire under me; just seeing him out there reminded me of why I play this game. The love that we have for each other can't be taken away."

That was the biggest story of the night: an injured brother who picked himself up and made it back for the postseason, to debut in his hometown, his first action since last year's WAC Tournament.

Woodbury, who was playing in his first game of the season after recovering from a season-long knee injury, canned a triple to stretch UVU's lead to 20, 55-35, with 10:27 left during a run that reached 23-3.

The 6-foot-4 UNLV transfer opted to rip up a potential medical redshirt and bolster his team's postseason bid, and the graduate of nearby Clark High School finished his return to the city where he grew up with 5 points, four rebounds and two assists, including a dish to Aimaq in the first half about four minutes after he came off the bench.

"The whole locker room and the whole team was so excited for Trey," UVU coach Mark Madsen said. "He's from Las Vegas, his family was here; he's worked so hard. It was always Trey Woodbury's decision … and I think Trey probably reflected on it with his family, maybe with Daws, and he made the decision this morning.

"I'm so proud of him, for the person he is, the player he is, and for his perseverance."

Woodbury missed the 2021-22 regular season with a knee injury, something that strikes close to home for Nield, who returned after offseason surgery to repair bone spurs in both hips. It's a grueling process, and one that Nield didn't take lightly — and neither did Woodbury.

"I've seen that guy working out in our gym every single day. Coming back from an injury, I know how that goes; every day is a mental battle," Nield said. "But to see him make it to the top and a glimpse of that old Trey Woodbury is great. I'm super proud of him; all of his hard work has paid off."

Chicago State shot just 33% from the field in the first half, but Jahsean Corbett scored two of his 13 points before the break to cap an 8-0 run that gave the Cougars a 27-26 edge with 4:04 on the clock. But Nield responded with a cut to the rim moments later, and the Wolverines ended the half on a 6-0 run to take a 32-29 edge at the break.

Aimaq knocked down his first four shots from the field, and six of his first seven as he stormed out to double-digit scoring in just four minutes. The Vancouver, British Columbia, product had 14 points, five rebounds and an assist in the first half to lead Utah Valley.

Perhaps most importantly, the Wolverines held Chicago State scoreless for the final 3:06 of the first half.

Aimaq capped a 12-0 run with his second 3-pointer of the game — yes, the 6-foot-11 big man with NBA potential can shoot threes, too, remember? — and the Wolverines took a 46-32 lead just five minutes into the second half.

And when the game was over, it was on to the next for Aimaq, playing in the city that never sleeps and the fourth conference tournament to tipoff this week.

"I'm pretty schedule-oriented," Aimaq said. "I'll check some scores and things, but I'm pretty locked in. This is a business trip for us. We'll get back to the room, get some food, and then sleep until game day tomorrow.

"I know there are a lot of other things going on, but we're focused on what we're supposed to do."

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