Down 70-71 to South Dakota, UVU’s Isiah Williams dribbled the inbounds pass to mid-court before heaving up a desperate shot. The crowd roared as the shot went through but were soon silenced by the referee’s whistle.
“He was on the line!” the official yelled, pointing at the sideline. Out of bounds, South Dakota ball, two seconds left. And just like that, UVU’s tournament hopes were dashed.
Although the season came to such a disappointing end, the game was within reach of both teams, as neither had a lead of more than ten points throughout the entire game. Though the final call that negated Williams’ final three-point attempt was disputable, in the end the game didn’t come down to the last play.
Besides neither team having greater than a ten point lead at any point in the game, the lead changed 17 times. The final score, 72-70, was not only indicative of a tight game, but also reflective of a highly competitive tournament where the largest margin of victory of all six games was three.
In this atmosphere of close competition, South Dakota’s win came down to nitty-gritty details.
Two key statistical advantages gave South Dakota an edge: their hot three-point shooting (53 percent to the Wolverine’s 26 percent) and their rebounding (+7 for the game). The Wolverines led the Great West during the season in both three-point defense and rebounding margin, but South Dakota’s ability to attack what should have been strengths did the Wolverines in.
South Dakota’s hot start in the first half didn’t escape the notice of the home team.
“We came out sluggish,” said Williams. “We didn’t play defense very well in the first half. Coach came in and said ‘they shot 60 percent’.”
The Wolverines were able to better defend in the second half, but they we never able to completely corral South Dakota’s backcourt players. The three starting guards made a combined 42 points, and reserve guard Jordan Boots added 11.
The stellar guard play didn’t escape the notice of Coach Dick Hunsaker.
“They have a lot of firepower in their backcourt,” he said.
South Dakota guard Jake Thomas, who led his team with 21 points, said that he’s always felt comfortable shooting in the UCCU Center.
“The guys that usually shoot threes on the team – me, Louie and Jordan – we all like this gym. As shooters, we have a nice feel for things here.”
After the game, Coach Hunsaker gave credit to South Dakota, avoiding any talk about that final controversial call. His only response was that he didn’t see it, but the ref “was right on top of it.” He did, however, have praise for his opponents.
“Congratulations to South Dakota,” he said simply. “They’re the defending tournament champions, and they played like it.”
Utah Valley finished the 2010-11 season with a 19-11 overall record and 11-1 in conference play, making them regular season champions after being picked to finish sixth in the preseason poll.