March 14, 2014
LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- Utah Valley University's run towards its first NCAA Tournament bid was spoiled on Friday in a 74-69 loss to Idaho at the Orleans Arena. The loss came in the semifinals of the conference tournament in the Wolverines' first season in the WAC.
The WAC regular season champions, UVU now awaits its destination and opponent for the NIT, which will be announced Sunday night. The Wolverines receive an automatic bid to the 32-team NIT, which has its first round games scheduled for March 17-18 at host schools.
In Friday's game, Mitch Bruneel had his second straight 18-point performance, hitting 7-of-10 from the field. Bruneel was a combined 15-for-18 in the Wolverines’ two tournament contests.
Holton Hunsaker scored 15, Ben Aird added 14 and Zach Nelson pitched in 12. Aird had 11 of his points, and five of his eight rebounds, in the second half. Hunsaker finished with five assists and three steals.
Stephen Madison led Idaho with 25 points, with Mike Scott adding 14 and Connor Hill 12.
“This is the third of a real hard-fought back-and-forth game with Idaho this season, and tonight they got the upper hand early and maintained the edge throughout. Congratulations to them,” said UVU head coach Dick Hunsaker.
Despite leading only briefly and never by more than two, the Wolverines had it at a one-point game at halftime, 30-29. Hunsaker scored 14 in the half to lead all scorers.
Idaho built the lead to 10, 54-44, with 9:37 left on a pair of Madison free throws. UVU responded with eight straight points, getting a layup and free throw on a 3-point play by Aird, followed by another Aird layup before Keawe Enos was fouled on a 3-point attempt and knocked down all three from the line.
The Wolverines trailed by one with 4:04 to go when Hill hit a 3-pointer and Sekou Wiggs scored a layup to give Idaho a 70-64 advantage with 2:37 left. Enos cut it to three with a 3-pointer with 52 seconds to go but Madison was able to knock down two from the line with five seconds left to seal the win for Idaho.
Utah Valley, which scored 40 points in the paint, hit 49.1 percent from the field for the game with the Vandals making 48 percent.