Seniors Justin Baker, Shawn Deadwiler and Jordan Swarbrick finish their final year as regular season GWC champions.
Utah Valley’s trio of seniors received a fitting finale as the Wolverines downed Houston Baptist University 67-62 on Senior Night Feb. 26 and then took the win over NJIT March 3, making them Great West Conference regular season champions.
On Senior Night, despite a 4-23 record, HBU aggressively clung in the game, keeping pace with UVU until the closing seconds. Thanks to a strong defensive effort that included 48 rebounds, the Wolverines held off the Huskies’ advances and never lost the lead.
The first half saw HBU struggle against UVU’s larger players underneath the basket, relying on 3-pointers to stay competitive. Following the break at half, UVU came out determined to neutralize the long threat. As a result, HBU went 17 minutes without a three-point shot in the second half until a rally attempt in the final 30 seconds.
While they shined on defense, UVU’s offense fell flat by comparison.
UVU struggled offensively, shooting 22.7 percent of 3-pointers while turning the ball over 15 times. Despite that lackluster performance, they still managed to produce defensively and underneath. UVU pulled in 14 rebounds while on offense, putting up 13 points from second chances.
The big men shouldered the team’s weight as the forwards and center scored 47 of UVU’s points, 28 coming in the paint.
Freshman standout Ben Aird proved he earned the Great West Conference Player of the Week with a double-double, leading the team in points at 22 and posting 11 rebounds. Aird was honored with a second consecutive Player of the Week award last week.
“I am very pleased and impressed to see him build off his Player of the Week award and come up with another effort that would really warrant consecutive players of the week,” said Coach Dick Hunsaker.
Despite an amazing season as a freshman, Aird remains grounded as a team player, passing off his success to his teammates and coaches.
“More than anything I think it’s my teammates putting me in positions that allow me to be successful,” Aird said of his performance. “All the credit goes to my teammates and to the coaching staff and the way they prepared me.”
Geddes Robinson added the team’s second double-double of the night with 12 points and the team-high 13 rebounds. Seniors Justin Baker and Jordan Swarbrick accounted for seven and five rebounds, respectively.
With the win against HBU added to their record, the Wolverines headed out on the road for one final trip to face NJIT for the second time this season. Taking a 61-56 win over the Highlanders gave UVU their first ever conference title since their transition to Division I.
The victory gave the Wolverines the first seed going into this week’s GWC tournament, which begins March 9. UVU finished their season 11-1 in conference play and 19-10 overall.
Aird again boasted high numbers in the win against the Highlanders, finishing with 17 points and 13 rebounds, his fifth double-double this season. Isiah Williams also put up 17 points while Holton Hunsaker followed with 11.
Although the GWC tournament begins on Wednesday, UVU men will first play Friday at 7:30 p.m.