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Utah State, Utah Valley basketball: Wilkinson, Ags pound Wolverines

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USU's Gary Wilkinson dunks over UVU's Rory Fannon. Wilkinson scored a career-high 29 points, hitting 12 of 14 shots from the field.

USU’s Gary Wilkinson dunks over UVU’s Rory Fannon. Wilkinson scored a career-high 29 points, hitting 12 of 14 shots from the field.

Jeffrey D Allred, Associated Press

OREM — With about 17 minutes left to play, Utah Valley coach Dick Hunsaker screamed across the floor to his players.

"Guard him!" Hunsaker implored.

But no amount of pleading, begging or coaching from the Wolverine sideline was going to stop Utah State's Gary Wilkinson.

The rugged Aggie center was simply too much to handle Saturday night at the McKay Events Center, as Utah State pounded the ball down low early, often and with alarming efficiency in a 69-50 win over the Wolverines.

"It was a good night," Wilkinson understated after making 12-of-14 shots, scoring a career-best 29 points and grabbing seven rebounds as the Aggies improved to 6-1.

A week after BYU's big men exposed a potential weakness in the Aggies by doubling down and quickly rotating into passing lanes, Utah State showed they'd made the necessary adjustments to prevent another such showing.

But as impressive as USU's post offense was, it was the Aggies' defense that had Stew Morrill happy after the win. The veteran Aggie coach pointed to Utah State's 33-20 rebounding advantage and the 36-percent shooting effort from UVU.

"That's probably the biggest stats of the night," Morrill said, "in addition to Gary's big night."

Utah State limited hot-shooting UVU senior Ryan Toolson to only six points in the first half and held the Wolverines without a basket for more than eight minutes just before halftime.

That was key as the Aggies, who never trailed in the game, saw their early scoring advantage trimmed to just 14-13 on a Josh Olsen jumper with 8:53 to go in the half. UVU didn't make another bucket until a Jourdain Scoubes jump shot with 45 seconds left.

By that time, Utah State had enjoyed a 16-1 run to blow the game open and hit the locker room with a 32-18 lead.

Toolson eventually heated up and finished with 25 points for the Wolverines (5-4). But he admitted it was difficult to get quality shots off with his team using so much energy trying in vain to slow down Wilkinson.

"Their bigs were just bigger and stronger and wanted it more than ours," he said.

In addition to Wilkinson's monster night, power forward Tai Wesley, a Provo High grad, enjoyed his return to Utah County. He had a solid 11-point, eight-rebound night despite being limited to 21 minutes because of early foul trouble.

Tyler Newbold, a Payson High grad, also had a decent night, scoring 10 points, snaring five rebounds and dishing out a team-best three assists. He was also the primary defender on Toolson until the game was out of hand in the final minutes.

The Wolverines used a nice rally early in the second half to trim USU's lead to 43-33 with 13:33 left when Tyray Petty hit a 3-pointer. But that was as close as Utah Valley could get and no one other than Toolson scored again. Toolson scored the final 17 Wolverine points while the Ags seized control, riding Wilkinson to victory.

"I don't have enough superlatives for him," Hunsaker said. "He was just phenomenal tonight. ... We just couldn't match his physicalness."

Wilkinson saw his season shooting improve to an even 75 percent. He's now averaging 19 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.

The Aggies continue their tour of Utah on Wednesday with a trip to Southern Utah before traveling to Idaho State on Saturday.

UVU will be back in action Saturday when the Wolverines host SUU.

E-mail: jeborn@desnews.com