Las Vegas • Even after Utah Valley trailed by six points, the last minute of a Western Athletic Conference semifinal game was looking like the rest of the Wolverines’ overachieving season.
A big shot, a turnover — and then, a chance to force overtime. That’s when the script flipped, and UVU’s dream destination was rerouted from the NCAA Tournament to the NIT.
O Idaho forward Stephen Madison scores 25 points as the Vandals defeat Utah Valley in the WAC tournament semifinals.
» UVU automatically qualifies for the NIT as a regular-season conference champion.
» The Wolverines make 4 of 19 shots from 3-point range, compared with Idaho’s 8 of 18.
» Idaho 74,Utah Valley 69
» No. 2 New Mexico State 69, No. 6 Cal State Bakersfield 63
» Idaho vs. New Mexico State, 8 p.m., ESPN
Mitch Bruneel’s tying 3-point attempt bounced off the rim. Idaho’s Stephen Madison rebounded the ball and made two free throws with five seconds left as the Vandals took a 74-69 victory Friday night at the Orleans Arena.
Afterward, UVU coach Dick Hunsaker summarized a season of "so many clutch moments by so many different guys."
This almost became the latest episode, but the Wolverines (20-11) couldn’t quite recover after falling behind by 10 points in the last 10 minutes. They got within one, but Ben Aird missed a 3-pointer and Idaho stayed in control until the final minute when UVU made one last surge that fell short.
Keawe Enos turned an offensive rebound into a 3-pointer, Holton Hunsaker forced a turnover and Bruneel got a decent look from the left wing, but he couldn’t convert.
No. 5-seeded Idaho (16-17) advanced to Saturday’s championship game vs. New Mexico State, while the Wolverines were left with a mixture of disappointment and consolation.
UVU missed an opportunity for an NCAA Tournament bid in the school’s first season of automatic access, and that really hurt the Wolverines. Then again, the NIT berth that’s available to any regular-season conference champion ranks as the greatest achievement in the Orem school’s history.
Just trying processing all of that, about 20 minutes after the buzzer.
Holton Hunsaker, a son of the coach, paused for several seconds in the postgame news conference after being asked to describe his emotions. "Looking back on the season, there’s only happy thoughts," he said, somewhat convincingly.
Dick Hunsaker entered this tournament knowing it was asking a lot of his team to win three games in Las Vegas, even after going 13-3 in WAC play. The Wolverines hardly were overwhelming as first-year conference members, but they had a knack for winning games that unfolded the way Friday’s contest did.
"There’s really not a lot of room for error with our club," said Hunsaker, whose team won two previous meetings with Idaho by a total of six points.
The Wolverines missed their chance to take control of this game in the first half, when Madison played only 13 minutes because of foul trouble. Holton Hunsaker scored UVU’s final 11 points of the half, but Idaho maintained a 30-29 edge.
UVU never led in the second half, when Madison scored 18 of his 25 points. Bruneel led the Wolverines with 18 points, but missed three free throws down the stretch. Hunsaker scored 14 of his 15 points in the first half and Aird finished with 14.
The Wolverines expect to draw a big-name opponent in the NIT. "It’s a special deal, to be honest," Dick Hunsaker said. "I really believe we will regroup and play our hearts out."
Idaho 74,Utah Valley 69
Hill 5-11 0-0 12, M. Scott 6-9 0-0 14, Seck 0-1 0-0 0, Madison 7-13 8-10 25, Kammerer 1-2 0-0 2, Dean 1-5 3-4 6, Wiggs 3-5 3-5 9, Callandret 1-3 2-2 4, Egbert 0-1 2-4 2.
Totals 24-50 18-25 74.
UTAH VALLEY (20-11)
Enos 2-4 3-3 8, Hunsaker 4-13 5-6 15, Bruneel 7-10 3-6 18, Nelson 6-8 0-0 12, Aird 6-11 2-5 14, Garrity 1-5 0-0 2, Evans 0-1 0-0 0, Ross 0-0 0-0 0, Brown 0-1 0-0 0.
Totals 26-53 13-20 69.
Halftime—Idaho 30-29. 3-Point Goals—Idaho 8-18 (Madison 3-4, M. Scott 2-4, Hill 2-6, Dean 1-4), Utah Valley St. 4-19 (Hunsaker 2-8, Bruneel 1-3, Enos 1-3, Brown 0-1, Aird 0-1, Garrity 0-3). Fouled Out—Hunsaker. Rebounds—Idaho 29 (Egbert 7), Utah Valley St. 31 (Aird 8). Assists—Idaho 7 (Madison, M. Scott 2), Utah Valley St. 17 (Hunsaker 8). Total Fouls—Idaho 17, Utah Valley St. 20. A—NA.
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