Orem • Having clinched the Great West Conference basketball championship Saturday night, Utah Valley University’s players celebrated by assembling for a formal team photo, complete with chairs lined up at center court.
UVU athletic director Mike Jacobsen even tried to fix coach Dick Hunsaker’s necktie, which had come undone during the game, but Hunsaker wanted an authentic look.
That’s what you get with these Wolverines. There’s nothing glamorous about them, but they keep battling.
They’ve won 13 consecutive games, they’ve risen above the strangest collection of schools in Division I athletics and they deserve a chance to play in a national postseason tournament. UVU also belongs in the Western Athletic Conference, but that’s a subject for another day.
For now, all Hunsaker’s team can do is beat conference rivals Texas-Pan American, Houston Baptist, Chicago State, North Dakota and the New Jersey Institute of Technology. The Wolverines (20-10, 9-0 Great West) have one regular-season game remaining, then will enter the conference tournament next week in Chicago. The winner’s prize: not an NCAA Tournament bid, just automatic entry into the Collegeinsider.com Tournament.
UVU gladly would take that. The Wolverines reached the 20-win mark with a 74-64 win over UTPA on Saturday, when I apparently was not the only person just discovering them. The attendance of 6,602 more than doubled UVU’s season average. This team has come a long way, besides traveling a lot of miles. In the non-conference schedule, the Wolverines played in these states: Texas, Arkansas, Michigan, Maine, Montana and Tennessee. That explains why they once stood 7-10, before rattling off 13 wins.
“I always tell folks we can’t build our team’s confidence and backbone in the preseason,” Hunsaker said. “Frankly, we just try to survive. They have to be able to refocus, regroup and build as we enter more of a competitive level of play.”
UVU, led by senior guard Isiah Williams, has done that. The Wolverines swept a home-and-home series with future WAC member Seattle before tearing through the Great West, setting themselves up as the tournament’s No. 1 seed with that historic postseason opportunity awaiting them - as it was last season, when UVU was upset in the conference tournament.
“We have to go all the way, complete every hurdle, to have that happen,” Hunsaker said.
Longest current winning streaks, Division I men’s basketball:
20 — Kentucky.
17 — Drexel
16 — Mississippi Valley State.
13 — Utah Valley.
11 — Montana, Belmont, Savannah State.