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Utah Valley holds BYU to 36% shooting for 2nd straight win over Cougars

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PROVO — In his first trip to BYU since he transferred across town to Utah Valley, Blaze Nield had just 3 points in 21 minutes of the Wolverines' 82-60 loss two years ago.

He made up for it Wednesday night.

Nield scored 10 points on a pair of 3-pointers and two assists, and Justin Harmon had a game-high 19 points, three assists and two boards as Utah Valley balled into the Marriott Center on a snowy night and stunned the Cougars 75-60.

Aziz Bandaogo, Utah Valley's 7-foot center who transferred from Akron, had 14 points and seven rebounds for the Wolverines (5-4).

Don't call it an upset, either; on this night, the Wolverines were simply better. Ranked No. 194 in the NCAA's NET evaluation tool, UVU held the No. 188-ranked Cougars to just 36% from the field, including 1-of-11 from 3-point range in the second half, to leave Provo with their second-straight win over BYU (5-5) and third in an eight-game series that dates back to 2003.

So what was it, then?

It was a rivalry game, one where the team in green has won two-straight.

For Nield, it was personal for the former BYU guard who only played with the injured Trevin Knell before his transfer (though he hosted Gideon George on his visit from New Mexico Junior College and helped recruit Dallin Hall before the freshman's two-year mission).

"That was super fun, obviously," Nield said. "It's a rivalry game for us; we're both competitors, but for us to come out there and fight through adversity and get the dub was good.

"I started my career here, it was working, and I learned a lot. I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears on this court. To come back and play tonight was very special."

Of course, it was fun for Nield.

"Blaze came in and played a great game," UVU coach Mark Madsen said of his senior point guard who had just one turnover in 20 minutes for a team that gave away 17. "He runs plays, he makes shots, and he got to the free-throw line. He really came up in the clutch."

Fousseyni Traore led BYU with 18 points, seven rebounds and two assists; and George added 10 points and eight rebounds for the Cougars, who shot just 4-of-26 from 3-point range overall.

Rudi Williams had 15 points for BYU, all but 5 of them in the first half for a team that made 16-of-23 free throws and 3-of-9 after the break while shooting just 15% from deep.

"We are working really hard to find ourselves right now," BYU coach Mark Pope said. "There's a lot of things that we are not doing great right now. We know we are not playing very well right now. The guys are super committed to trying to get better and that is our job. So that is what I look forward to doing."

But in a game without Spencer Johnson, who missed his third consecutive contest with a knee injury, the Cougars didn't have the scoring power to pull away from a motivated Utah Valley squad.

"Obviously, we gave up a lot of offensive rebounds, and that was a big focus for us," Nield said. "But we battled, and we tried to keep them off and forced a lot of misses. We stuck to the game plan and everything worked out in our favor.

"We played as hard as we could and gave it all we had. That was kind of the difference maker."

It's the second-straight loss after a 69-68 loss to South Dakota for the Cougars, who face No. 21 Creighton in Las Vegas on Saturday.

Traore scored 8 of the Cougars' first 11 points, and Hall added a 3-pointer in his fourth consecutive game to help BYU hold off Utah Valley's early 3-point barrage in freshmen Hall and Richie Saunders' first career start.

Led by Williams' 10 points that tied Traore and Bandaogo with the game high at halftime, the Cougars outscored UVU 15-10 off the bench and 12-6 in the paint to make up for a 37% first-half shooting performance. But Bandaogo buried his second 3-pointer of the night to tie the game at 30-30 with 4:26 to go, and the Wolverines shot 52% from the field with six 3-pointers to pull within 38-34 at the half on Cam Alford's buzzer beater.

"That was all Cam Alford not giving up on the play," Madsen said of the junior from Indianapolis. "We talk a lot in our program of ultra competitive plays. Cam kept on playing. ... I didn't fully see it, but I know what he did because of his hustle."

Utah Valley trailed by four at halftime, but after Traore's opening bucket of the second half, the Wolverines blitzed the 3-of-12 shooting Cougars and took a 55-45 lead with about 10 minutes remaining in the game.

The Wolverines held BYU scoreless for more than four minutes on their home court before Traore broke the drought, but Nield immediately countered with a 3-pointer and fed Tahj Small a dunk to stretch the lead back to 60-49 with 6:34 to go.

"Any time you can get some shots to drop, it feels good," Nield said. "In a big game like that, in the second half, I've made big shots before and I was ready to step up. My teammates trusted me, and I'm just grateful they went in tonight."

Madsen, too, credited the game plan, especially after making "a few in-house adjustments" on defense at halftime.

"I can't say enough about the players. Everyone who was on the court did something," Madsen said."

The Cougars were 0-for-5 from the free-throw line and just 1-for-6 from 3-point range to trail before Traore's putback cut the deficit to nine with just over five minutes remaining.

But that was as close as they would get as Nield broke BYU's full-court press and the Wolverines held down their crosstown rivals the rest of the way in the final scheduled game between the two squads.

Of course, it's also just one win. And for a Utah Valley team that plays in the Western Athletic Conference — a league that already boasts wins over Oklahoma, Utah, Wyoming and Washington, among others — it all comes down to conference play, and one week in March in Las Vegas.

Until then, the Wolverines will enjoy this one, and learn from the 17 turnovers, from the 13-8 disparity on the offensive glass, and from the eight free-throw misses.

"I think we just need to keep working every day, focus on the little things and rebounding," Nield said. "As we get better on the little things and defense, then our offense and shooting percentage will improve as well. Our shooting percentage is correlated to our defense."


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A proud graduate of Syracuse University, Sean Walker has covered BYU for since 2015, while also mixing in prep sports, education, and anything else his editors assign him to do.


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