Men's basketball: Utah Valley University still has bitter taste of 2011
Orem • Isiah Williams had delivered Utah Valley from the abyss of defeat. At least he thought so.
Yet even as his 30-footer snapped the net, an official had his hand raised, and not in a signal for a 3-point attempt. No, Williams had been ruled to have stepped out of bounds, giving South Dakota a two-point upset victory in the semifinals of last year's Great West Conference tournament on UVU's court.
Despite television replays that revealed the call incorrect, "I felt like I hurt my teammates," the senior guard said. So now the Wolverines, in the midst of a 13-game winning streak, find themselves in the same position. They hold the No. 1 seed and a bye into the semifinals of the upcoming conference tournament to be played at Chicago State.
Has anything else changed from a season ago?
"A lot of us are taking nothing for granted," Williams said with a determined finality. "It was, 'What happened?' Our guys are humble. We're just ready to play and come out a winner."
Although the six-team GWC is not eligible for the NCAA Tournament (seven teams are needed to qualify for at least an at-large bid), Utah Valley (20-10, 9-0) does have a postseason goal, the 24-team CollegeInsider.Com tourney.
Any postseason would be a first for UVU, now in its fourth season as a Division I program, and, according to coach Dick Hunsaker, playing deeper into March is incentive enough.
"That's what everybody plays for," he said. "But no one wants to get caught looking ahead."
With memories of last season's ignominious finish still fresh and one regular-season game at North Dakota remaining on the Wolverines' schedule, no one is looking past the March 9 semifinal with an as-yet-unknown opponent.
"Those people cut down our nets and that was something we didn't enjoy," senior forward Keith Thompson said.
With Chicago State ineligible to play due to low Academic Progress Rate (APR), Utah Valley might have the largest fan base at Chicago State simply because Williams is from Chicago and expects family and friends to sit courtside.
"Last time there I didn't play so well," Williams said with a smile. "Hopefully I can get that out of my head."
For seniors Geddes Robinson, Kevin Woods, Rory Fannon, Thompson and Williams, the opportunity to wash away the disappointment of 2011 remains part of the team's motivation.
"This year there was more respect for the schedule," Hunsaker said. "They're not looking to the future. They're much more focused to the task at hand."
"We're playing good right now," Williams said. "But I think we can do even better."
A closer look
This season, UVU senior Isiah Williams became the fourth player in the school's Division I era to score 1,000 points for a career.
UVU is a back-to-back Great West Conference regular-season champion, having lost one league game in two seasons.
The Wolverines, in their fourth season of D-I play, seek their first postseason bid, to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.