Although I'm sure the Wolverines are disappointed to be going home without winning a game in the NIT, its first appearance ever in the tournament, they should find some solace in remembering the journey that brought them here.
Utah Valley started the season off with extremely low expectations placed upon them, projected by ESPN to finish seventh in the nine-team WAC. However, led by four-year starters Holton Hunsaker and Ben Aird, the Wolverines never doubted themselves, and stole the spotlight early in conference play by starting 7-0. They were determined to show the New Mexico State Aggies that there was a new sheriff in town. The Wolverines showed fight and it was clear Hunsaker and Aird were not satisfied with graduating without leaving their mark.
Well, they certainly accomplished that goal. Utah Valley is now a school players, coaches, and fans of other WAC schools will watch out for in the future. The Wolverines got some national exposure by playing in the NIT, and gave California a bit of a scare early on in the game. They led for the first ten minutes of the game, and I could see the Cal players were surprised. Perhaps they hadn't anticipated that Utah Valley could be a team that could beat them. It was clear that Utah Valley cared about being there, even if they were disappointed to not be in the NCAA Tournament.
California seemed to take a while to decide if it wanted to play, and the game was pretty clearly one of desire. At first, Cal didn't really seem to want to be there. Their defense was hot-and-cold and allowed some really easy looks early on. Utah Valley did what it always does and swung the ball around a bunch, and it wasn't until a little while into the game when the Bears decided to follow the ball. When they did, they were pretty easily able to force turnovers, pressure the shooter, and contest and block shots.
David Kravish ended up being a huge factor on the defensive end for Cal with nine rebounds and five blocked shots. He also added 14 points, the most on his team. Cal did a tremendous job sharing the ball throughout the game, and five players finished with double digit point totals.
Aird and Hunsaker wanted to take the game into their own hands and while they were able to give Cal a run for its money early on, the lack of contribution from anyone else on the team was a real killer for them. I wonder what this team will look like next year without the two impact seniors. Perhaps people will have low expectations for Utah Valley next year without the aforementioned seniors. It's time for the Wolverines to make their move into the spotlight and prove all those wrong who doubted them for whatever reason they may have.
It's time for Utah Valley basketball to become a mid-major force.