There was more than a single win or loss riding on the men’s basketball team’s final game of the season against Cal State Bakersfield. The state’s longest streak of winning seasons was on the line.
Going into the game, Utah Valley was 14-14 and easily handled the Roadrunners to claim a 25th winning season in a row.
"That [getting a winning season] was really important for us," senior forward Jordan Brady said. "That was definitely the focus for this game, to get that win and come out on top."
At one point in the season, that streak was in serious doubt. After a loss to Louisiana-Lafayette in January, the team was 6-13. With a five-game losing streak and a four-game losing streak behind them, the Wolverines finished the season winning nine of their final 10 games.
The only other time in the season Utah Valley had a winning record during the season was after a win over NAIA Great Falls, five games into the season.
It’s no coincidence those final 10 games came against fellow Independent teams. It was early in the season, with a majority of games on the road against Western Athletic Conference, Big East and other mid-major teams when the Wolverines struggled.
After beating Great Falls to improve to 3-2, the team lost to San Francisco by five, gave away a home game to Portland State in overtime, then dropped games to Cal State Northridge, UC Santa Barbara and another home game to Boise State.
It took heroics from junior Ryan Toolson to end the skid.
Against Southern Utah, Utah Valley trailed by as many as 15 points, but Toolson forced overtime with a contested three-pointer, and he wasn’t close to being finished.
Toolson forced a second overtime with another three-pointer and finished off the Thunderbirds with yet another three-pointer to give Utah Valley a much-needed win in December. Toolson finished with a then-career-high 35 points in the 91-88 win.
Toolson finished the season averaging a team high 23.4 points per game, eighth in the nation in Division I.
Toolson’s list of impressive games included a career high and school record, tying 38 points in an overtime win against Chicago State, and 10 games where he scored 29 points or more.
Brady led the team in rebounds in 19 of the 29 games and averaged 8.4 a game.
Josh Olsen led the team in assists with 3.1 per game.
Still transitioning from those junior college days, there is work to do. "We obviously have our hands full and our work cut out for us in the recruiting area," Hunsaker said. "For us to compete against Big West, Sunbelt, WAC level teams, we have a lot of work to do to recruit to that level."
An advantage the team will have next year is playing fewer games on the road, where the team finished 5-11 this year.
After playing 16 road games this season, the Wolverines get return games from most of those teams next season.
Next season will also be the final year of playing under the D-I provisional status.