ACU opened up its first-ever season in the Western Athletic Conference with a hard-fought win over 2020-2021 conference regular-season runner-up and NCAA tournament qualifier, Utah Valley, 69-63.
“Everything that we have done from June 1 to now has been preparing us for WAC games,” head coach Julie Goodenough said. “We want to be successful, make a statement and not be passive entering into our first year, we did that by our players being really focused on the scout and doing the best they have done this season carrying the scout over into the game.”
The Wildcats got out to an early lead against Wolverines to start the first quarter, but Utah Valley struck back quickly, and they quickly took back the lead. Then through the majority of the second quarter, the Wolverines extended their lead all the way to 12 points. The Wildcats then went on an 11-0 run to close the half, serving as the spark that carried ACU to the win.
This 11-0 run and the home team’s eventual win were sparked by turning good defense into great offense. ACU caused the Wolverines to turn the ball over 16 times, while ACU themselves only had four. Due to that turnover margin, the Wildcats outscored Utah Valley 21-6 in points off of turnovers and 9-2 in fast-break points.
The Wildcats’ ability to turn the ball over was something that Goodenough pointed to as one of the biggest factors in their Thursday afternoon win.
“The momentum came down to getting defensive stops and scoring in transition,” Goodenough said. “Turning their turnovers into points for us was a big part of stopping their runs and keeping their lead to a single-point margin at halftime and eventually letting us take the lead.”
When the final buzzer sounded, four Wildcats found themselves in double-figures. Those players include redshirt junior forward Sarah Griswold with 10 points, senior guard Kamryn Mraz with 12 points while shooting 75% percent from the 3-point line and graduate transfer guard Tatum Barber with 13 points.
The final player in double figures was graduate transfer forward Jamie Bonnarens. She earned her second-straight double-double and ninth-straight double-digit performance with 16 points and 10 rebounds. After the game, Bonnarens talked about how the team’s past games and their ability to make adjustments helped them beat a top competitor like the Wolverines.
“We have had tough battles in the past, and we figured out a way to do better,” Bonnarens said. “Everyone locked in and really focused on those things and got the job done. All of us did our part and executed, and that’s how we got the win today.”
This win gives the Wildcats a 1-0 record heading into their next game in conference play, and according to Goodenough, their win over the Wolverines served to be a strong start in a new conference.
“You don’t want to get behind in conference play, especially when you first play at home, so this win was huge,” Goodenough said. “We have a completely different style coming in here on Saturday, so we told our players to enjoy the win tonight, recover and purge everything we’ve worked on the past three days and get ready for our next opponent.”
Next, the Wildcats stay in the Teague Center to face off against another first-time opponent, Dixie State, to start the new year. ACU and the Trailblazers tip-off on Saturday, Jan. 1 at 1 p.m., with the game streaming live on ESPN+.