Jan. 21, 2012
OREM, Utah -- Utah Valley held off North Dakota, 72-64, on Saturday night in the UCCU Center, opening the Great West Conference season with a win in a battle of the teams picked to finish 1-2 in the preseason.
The Wolverines (11-10, 1-0) closed out the game on an 11-2 run to win their fourth straight game overall.
Trailing by a one with under four mintues to go, UVU rattled of 10 straight points while holding UND (8-10, 0-1) scoreless for over three and a half minutes in crunch time.
"Our defense down the stretch was as good as it's been," said Utah Valley coach Dick Hunsaker. "We anticipated it would be a very physical, back-and-forth match. I thought we came out and played hard. We had really good energy and made good decisions defensively when we needed to. I liked the way we fought through and stayed with it. That game could have gone either way."
After Aaron Anderson gave North Dakota its first and only lead of the second half, 62-61, with a 3-pointer at the 3:46 mark, Keith Thompson put back his own miss to push Utah Valley back in front.
The score remained 63-62 and after a pair of empty possessions for both squads, Holton Hunsaker - who scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half - scored on a driving layup with 2:08 to go to give the Wolverines a 65-62 advantage.
Thompson, Isiah Williams and Ben Aird then hit six straight key free-throws in the final minute to help secure the win.
Alfonzo Hubbard led all scorers with a career-high 17 while Hunsaker added six assists and three steals to his 16-point night. Geddes Robinson - the conference's leading rebounder - hauled in 13 boards while Williams chipped in 12 points and Thompson added 11 points and eight rebounds.
The Wolverines led by one at the break, 34-33, in a first half that was filled with mini runs by both squads and the lead changed hands seven times.
In the second half, Utah Valley led by a point when a free throw by Robinson started an 8-0 run. Hunsaker drilled a three and followed with another bucket before a Thompson tip-in gave the Wolverines what would be their largest lead of the night at 47-38 with 13:36 left.
UND stayed within striking distance behind a pair of 3-pointers from Josh Schuler and then with 6:04 left, tied the game on a jumper from Patrick Mitchell. The game was tied at 59 with 4:23 to go when Aird converted on a pair from the line before Anderson's go-ahead trey set up the game's final minutes.
Aird added eight points and had a career-best five steals. The Wolverines got some key minutes off the bench from Rory Fannon, as Aird dealt with foul trouble, to help aid in the UVU win.
Troy Huff had 15 to lead North Dakota while Schuler chipped in 12 and Brandon Brekke had 10 points and 11 rebounds.
The Wolverines, the defending conference champions, and North Dakota, the defending conference tournament champions, will meet again on March 3 in Grand Forks to close out the conference regular season.
Next week, Utah Valley will host a pair of GWC games when Chicago State (Jan. 26) and NJIT (Jan. 28) come to the UCCU Center.