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Utah Valley suffers cold shooting night in 'devastating' WAC tournament semifinal loss to Grand Canyon

LAS VEGAS — For much of the night Friday at Orleans Arena, Utah Valley saw shot after shot it normally makes rim out.

The cold shooting came at the most inopportune time, as the No. 2 seed Wolverines lost 75-60 to third-seeded Grand Canyon in the WAC tournament semifinals that ended the Wolverines' hopes of making their first NCAA Tournament appearance.

"It's a devastating way for us to finish this WAC tournament, but I couldn't be more proud of (my team)," UVU coach Mark Pope said. "I know that doesn't make anyone feel better. But these guys have grown and developed a character that's really impressive. We just couldn't get over the hump tonight."

The Lopes (22-10) led from start to finish against UVU (22-10), as the Wolverines lost for the third time in the WAC semifinals since they joined the conference for the 2013-14 season. UVU, which was also seeking a single-season program record 23rd victory, has never made it to the league final, where the winner is awarded a coveted automatic NCAA Tournament bid.

UVU struggled throughout the night to string together positive possessions offensively, shooting 35.5 percent in both halves.

"Sometimes the night doesn't go your way, I know that's incredibly unsatisfying," Pope said. "Credit to Grand Canyon. They played really hard, they were really physical.

"Nights like that, you have to count on your defense and your physicality and your togetherness. And sometimes your good fortune, too. And that didn't happen tonight."

The Wolverines also made just 3 of 19 3-pointers on the night. Grand Canyon entered the game leading the nation in 3-point defense, as opponents have shot only 27.1 percent from beyond the arc.

"To hold (UVU) to 3 of 19 is a credit to our team and a credit to the coaches," Grand Canyon coach Dan Majerle said. "The attention to detail that these guys did, that's one thing weve been able to do all year long."

Grand Canyon, which led for all but 42 seconds of the game, broke the contest open with an 18-2 run in the first half to build a 27-9 lead. Lopes center Alessandro Lever, who entered the game shooting 28.2 percent from 3-point range this season, hit three straight 3-pointers to spur the run.

The Lopes carried that momentum to a 41-27 halftime lead, making 54.8 percent of its shots from the field in the first half, including an efficient 5 of 8 from 3-point range. Grand Canyon then built a 48-31 advantage with 16 minutes to play before Utah Valley made a strong run.

Over the next eight minutes, the Wolverines shut down the Grand Canyon offense, forcing six turnovers during that span, and climbed back into the contest with a 16-3 run, capped by an Akolda Manyang layup that made it 51-47 with 7:48 to play.

"They got us early on, and we just tried to fight back and play as hard as we can," said UVU's Kenneth Ogbe, who had 12 points, including six in the second half.

Less than a minute later in what was still a four-point game, UVU had the chance to cut the deficit to one possession, but Jerrelle DeBerry's 3-point attempt rimmed out, and on the ensuing possession, the Lopes' Josh Braun was fouled on a 3-point attempt.

Braun made all three free throws, and UVU could never climb closer than five points the remainder of the game.

Lever had 15 points, seven rebounds, two blocks and two steals to lead Grand Canyon, which shot 43.1 percent for the game, while Braun added 15 points, six rebounds and a pair of blocks.

"We made a conscious effort to get Braun the ball," Majerle said. "That's not in his DNA to quit."

Manyang, one of six seniors for UVU, paced the Wolverines with 18 points, 12 rebounds, three blocked shots and a steal.

Grand Canyon also crashed the boards, outrebounding UVU 46-36.

"They're a big team, an experienced team. For us to be able to run them off the line, to be able to get the boards, I thought that was really good," Majerle said.

With the win, the Lopes advance to the WAC tournament championship, where they'll face top seed New Mexico State on Saturday (8 p.m. MST, ESPNU).

The Wolverines, meanwhile, wait to find out what their postseason fate will be. Last year, UVU made it to the semifinals of the College Basketball Invitational.