Enduring a difficult road trip that saw them play five games away from Orem in the first three-plus weeks of the season, the Wolverines bounced back to win four of their last six prior to beginning conference play.
The favorable results have moved Utah Valley to 6-7 overall and 6-1 at the UCCU Center. The Western Athletic Conference schedule starts with the Wolverines visiting the Bakersfield Roadrunners Jan. 4 at 8 p.m. MST.
Notable non-conference wins over Weber State and, most recently, Tennessee Tech, had UVU sitting in fourth place in their new league, though that changed when the conference schedule officially kicked off Jan. 2.
“I thought everybody played well and played hard,” UVU head coach Dick Hunsaker told the media after the Wolverines’ latest win. “Tennessee Tech’s got a lot of athletes, a lot of depth and a lot of strength inside, and I thought we did a commendable job against that athleticism.”
Senior point guard Holton Hunsaker led the Wolverines in the 75-66 victory with 22 points and six assists and junior Mitch Bruneel chipped in 16 points and six rebounds. Sophomore Hayes Garrity also finished in double figures with 13 off the bench and senior Ben Aird had eight points, eight rebounds, three blocks and two steals.
Hunsaker did most of his damage at the foul line, going 14-of-16 from the stripe and passed current Orlando Magic guard Ronnie Price to move into third for most points in UVU history.
The floor general’s 1,262-career point total – as of Jan. 3 – only trails Ryan Toolson (2,163) and Aird (1,282). Hunsaker’s 362 assists are by far the most in school history. Toolson’s 282 are second best.
While UVU was playing to get back to .500 in its league opener against Bakersfield, the Roadrunners were trying to gain a winning record and solidify themselves among the WAC favorites.
Following the contest, the Wolverines will host NCAA Division I rookie Grand Canyon (5-8). The conference hierarchy is nearly impossible to predict due to incomparable non-conference schedules, but early league wins would certainly solidify UVU as a contender to usurp New Mexico State atop the WAC.
No conference opponent is better in scoring defense than Dick Hunsaker’s team, which holds opponents to 67.2 points per game.
Leading the charge offensively is Holton Hunsaker, who averages a team-best 12.5 points per game and 4.5 assists, with his 18.8 points per night over the Wolverines’ last four outings.
Garrity is UVU’s second-leading scorer and top reserve with 12 points. The versatile guard’s 42.9 percent mark from beyond the arc is only bested by senior Keawe Enos’ 48.9 percent 3-point shooting.
Aird continues to handle the majority of the Wolverines’ rebounding at 6.5 boards per game with freshman Zach Nelson not trailing far behind at 5.9 rebounds.
Enos, Bruneel, Aird and Nelson have supplemented the output of Hunsaker and Garrity, each of them contributing 8.5 or more points each game.