March has finally arrived, and with it brings the best five weeks of college basketball of the year. Conference tournaments have already begun and we’ve seen plenty of dramatic endings and buzzer-beaters.
Starting Tuesday night, it’s finally the WAC’s turn. The Utah Valley men’s basketball team caps off the opening night of #WACVegas from the Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas as the Wolverines look to start an improbable — but not impossible — run to a WAC tournament title.
The men’s team faltered down the stretch, losing its last two games on the road at perennial powers Grand Canyon and New Mexico State. Those two losses mean the Wolverines will have to win five games in five days as the seventh seed to make the Big Dance. Crazier things have happened, but the men’s team will have a tall task as they’d face rested teams in each round up until the finals.
The Wolverines open tournament play against the Chicago State Cougars, who they beat 101-87 on the road on Jan. 27. The Cougars are in their last year in the WAC and are coming off of one of the most unlikely upset wins in recent college basketball history, defeating WAC co-champions NMSU a few weeks ago in Chicago on a buzzer-beater. UVU has won the last seven meetings and nine of the last 10.
On the women’s side, the Wolverines won’t play until Thursday at the Orleans Arena after clinching the fourth seed on the final day of the regular season. The women’s team will face the winner of Abilene Christian and either Seattle U or UTRGV at noon PDT.
After starting conference play 4-6, the Wolverines went 6-2 over the final six weeks of the season to clinch a double-bye to the quarterfinals. One downside of being the fourth seed, however, is the looming task of facing off against top-seeded Stephen F. Austin, who went 17-1 in conference play.
A question for both teams is how healthy are they? On the men’s side, forward Tim Ceasar sat out the regular season finale at NMSU with an injury, depleting an already thin rotation of bigs for the Wolverines. Le’Tre Darthard also returned from injury against GCU on Thursday and went on to have a decent game off the bench against NMSU.
The women’s team has faced more injury woes down the home stretch, forcing Dan Nielson to rely on players that haven’t gotten as many minutes this season. Shay Fano, Tahlia White, and Babalu Stewart have all missed multiple games over the final weeks of the season and Maria Carvalho was forced to sit out the finale at home against NMSU.
Players like Eleyana Tafisi and Abby Conlee have stepped up in their absence, with Tafisi running the point in Carvalho’s absence and Conlee going for a double-double in her longest stretch of playing time during the win over the Aggies.
Carvalho will likely be back for the Wolverines when they tip-off their WAC tournament run on Thursday, but if the women’s team wants to be able to keep up with SFA in the semifinals, should they get there, then they’re going to need to be at full-strength.
Be sure to follow all of The Review’s social media accounts as the Wolverines fight for a conference tournament championship. We will be on location in Las Vegas keeping readers and viewers up-to-date on the latest news from #WACVegas.
Senior Staff Writer
Nathan is a senior studying Communications. In addition to covering UVU athletics for The Review, Nathan also covers BYU athletics for ESPN 960. Nathan hails from the Bay Area in California, and keeps tabs on the Giants, 49ers, and Warriors in his spare time.