Despite a game-high 24 points from guard Katie Kuklok, Utah Valley University basketball was unable to overcome a 16-0 run from Southern Utah University just before halftime, ultimately falling, 74-63, at Centrum Arena on Thursday night.
Kuklok's 24 matched her previous season high and came on 8-of-14 shooting and a 4-of-7 mark from behind the arc. The sophomore transfer entered the contest tied for the WAC lead in scoring average at 21.5 ppg.
"Katie has been a rock for us," UVU head coach Cathy Nixon said. "She's been a rock in every practice and in every game. We just need a few players to find that same page that she's on right now. We're gaining experience as we go and this team will bounce back. We're a team of fighters and if we can find some consistency I think we'll turn it around."
Meeting for the 15th time, UVU (1-4) and SUU (3-1) looked destined for another back-and-forth battle early on as the two teams traded the lead six times and saw four tied scores within the first 10 minutes of play. That all changed, however, when the Thunderbirds opened up a 16-0 rally late in the first period that kept the Wolverines on their heels the rest of the way.
A 3-pointer from Kuklok, one of her four on the evening, gave UVU a 16-14 advantage with 10:58 still left in the first half. It was the last time the Wolverines would lead in the contest as SUU jumped ahead with its deciding run. A brief 7-0 spurt put the Thunderbirds out in front, 21-16, but the Wolverines answered with back-to-back jumpers from Kuklok and Kartchner to get to 21-20.
What followed, though, were 16 consecutive SUU points — a sequence that was partially fueled by UVU turnovers and failed attempts on the defensive glass. During the run, the Wolverines turned the ball over four times, surrendered five offensive rebounds and went on a scoring drought of just over six minutes. SUU scored seven second-chance points during the stretch on its way to 26 for the game. The run gave the home team a 37-24 advantage at halftime.
"We're showing flashes of being able to do some great things on both sides of the floor," Nixon said. "But we just can't go on stretches of five or six minutes where we aren't executing offensively and giving them easy points defensively. We need to learn how to stop runs and find a few more layers on both ends. Like I said, we've got all the pieces; it's just a matter of finding a way to be more consistent."
In the second half, the Wolverines cut the deficit to 11 on three different occasions but could get no closer despite outscoring the Thunderbirds, 39-37. in the period. UVU trailed by as many as 21 late in the half but kept things interesting with a 12-2 spurt as the game wound to a close. Five points from Ashley Klemz and a pair of free throws from Ashley Baugh powered the run as the two combined to score 11 of UVU's 15 bench points.
Karlee Kartchner recorded her third straight game in double-digit scoring, putting up 10 points to go along with a team-high seven rebounds. She and Kuklok were the only Wolverines to reach double figures on the night.
Southern Utah was led by 15 points and 12 rebounds from sophomore Lori Parkinson to go along with 10 points each from Hailey Mandelko and Carli Moreland. The Thunderbirds have won eight straight in the series and hold an 11-4 edge overall.
UVU now returns home for a pair of games on either side of Thanksgiving in two more Big Sky Conference opponents. Sacramento State visits the UCCU Center on Wednesday for a 1 p.m. tip, while Northern Arizona comes to town Saturday at 3 p.m. The Wolverines went 1-1 against the two last season, topping NAU but falling at CSUS.
Kellen Hiser is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.