Starters are producing, but bench is lacking
There is nothing in sports quite like the emotions that are evoked by the senses. The smell of freshly cut grass and the sight of morning dew glistening in the early morning sunlight immediately bring to mind the joy of stepping on to the field for the season’s first practice.
On the other hand, some emotions are preferred left not experienced. Nothing brings a flood of emotions like hearing, “You’re benched!”
However, the bench can be a coach’s best friend, instilling confidence and peace of mind. When not performing, the bench can make for a long season, as well. Wolverines head basketball coach Dick Hunsaker is experiencing the whole range of emotions with this year’s squad as he attempts to make his reserves a reliable weapon.
As UVU continues Great West Conference action, Hunsaker is looking for more consistent production and effort off the pine. For the season, the bench has averaged 18.9 points per game and has looked stronger as of late, scoring 19 against North Dakota and 23 against Saint Mary.
That all went out the window in Thursday night’s four-point effort against Chicago State, and Hunsaker came out with a strong response.
“It’s hard to have a team like that,” Hunsaker said. “It’s very frustrating. Bench play is such a crucial aspect of having a quality team that has some consistency in its play. It certainly was glaring that we didn’t have that productivity tonight, no question. We won’t win many games with that kind of effort.”
Hunsaker has been leaning heavily on his starters for scoring, with the starting five accounting for a shade under 75 percent of the offense. Alfonzo Hubbard has taken on the role of sixth man and leads a second unit that has been tightened up as the Wolverines roll through GWC action.
“Hubbard is really getting better,” Hunsaker said. “He’s understanding his role, playing harder and getting more of an edge to his game.”
Hubbard is beginning to flourish with a little stability. He has had a new coach every year for the past seven seasons dating back to his days at Gallup High in New Mexico. His 7.4 points account for the majority of the reserves’ scoring and the bench play is rounded out with sophomore Taylor Brown and senior big man Rory Fannon.
“Taylor is still learning,” Hunsaker said. “I’ve settled on him in the rotation, but he has still got to get better.”
Following the 72-64 win over North Dakota, coach Hunsaker allowed a glimpse into what his expectations for the bench are.
“Scoring isn’t the only thing that makes a difference,” Hunsaker said. “The game ball has got to go to Rory Fannon. He’s played extended minutes playing sound and solid with a lot of intelligence and composure. What he did won’t show up in the stat box, but smart play and putting yourself in the right position to make plays helps to free other guys up.”
The 6-9 senior from New Zealand not only provides a big body to spell Ben Aird, but his effort exemplifies the work ethic coach Hunsaker is seeking and shows the underclassmen how to learn their role and do whatever is asked of them.
According to Hunsaker, the reserves need to step up and contribute more than the 27 percent of the teams scoring that they currently produce. On average the scoring margin has resulted in a 2.3 point advantage for the Wolverines, putting the burden on the starting five and making the average game a little to close for comfort.
“We’ve tightened up the rotation,” Hunsaker said. “The ball is in their court now to produce and we’ll need a strong effort each night to give us a little breathing room.”
By Jonathan Boldt
Asst. Sports Editor