In a 2020-21 season that was anything but normal, the Wolverines were able to put together a solid campaign and secure a share of the WAC regular season title. This season, they have the pieces to build upon their success to achieve a much higher goal: making the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.
It’s a goal that head coach Mark Madsen believes his team can achieve as long as they control what they can control and communicate effectively.
“That at times hurt us last year,” Madsen said at UVU’s basketball media day. “Communication affects every part of the game. It affects defensive rotations and making sure every player on the court knows the play. It sounds simple but it happens in the NBA. You get into hostile environments and the crowd is loud, communication solves a lot of problems.”
Madsen’s team will be headlined by the return of last season’s WAC Player of The Year and WAC Defensive Player of the Year, sophomore center Fardaws Aimaq. Aimaq also led the nation in rebounding last season in his first year after transferring from Mercer.
Aimaq echoed similar sentiments as Madsen when it came to his personal goals for this season.
“My personal goal is to win as much as we can win,” Aimaq said. “Our team goal is to make the NCAA tournament. I don’t know where they will have us in the preseason this year, but it’s going to be the same thing (as last season) showing them that we can do this.”
Last year the Wolverines were picked seventh in the WAC preseason poll. UVU was able to outplay those expectations and finish with a share of the conference title.
Another key contributor returning for the Wolverines is the team leader in scoring, junior guard Trey Woodbury. Woodbury, who averaged 15.6 points per game last season, provided UVU with a legitimate scoring threat on the perimeter, shooting 36.5 percent from beyond the arc.
Woodbury used this offseason to practice what coach Madsen preaches, controlling what he can control. When asked what he worked to improve Woodbury replied, “My body, that’s what I have been focusing on the most. My diet and taking every little detail seriously as far as being consistent with workouts.”
Unlike last season where the Wolverines fielded a team with two returning players and 16 newcomers, UVU returns the majority of last season’s roster. When asked about the returning production, Madsen had a laundry list of players to opine on.
One returning player that received high praise from Madsen was junior guard Blaze Nield, who is recovering from a surgery he received this offseason.
“His assist to turnover ratio was a national highlight,” Madsen said. “I think at one point he was number four in the nation in assist to turnover ratio. To have a point guard who didn’t turn the ball over at all, that’s impressive.”
Having returning veteran players will help the Wolverines as they trek through a newly revamped WAC, which expanded from nine to 13 teams this offseason. With the additions of last year’s top Southland Conference performers Abilene Christian, Stephen F. Austin, Lamar and Sam Houston State, the WAC is an open race for the top.
“This league is no joke. I’m hopeful that over time this could become a two-bid conference and I believe it can,” Madsen said.
The conference will also add another local school, Southern Utah, on July 1, 2022 in place of Chicago State. The improvement of the conference will make the road to the NCAA tournament the toughest challenge yet – a challenge that Woodbury believes plays to the Wolverines advantage.
“I know that if we don’t bring it every night then we have no chance,” Woodbury said. “We have to bring it every night and do every little thing every day because everything counts at a school like this. Just being mentally prepared going into March knowing that we have to win this thing, plays to my benefit.”
The Wolverines have been selected fifth in the 2021-22 WAC Preseason Men’s Basketball Media Poll behind New Mexico State, SFA, Grand Canyon and ACU.
Whether or not this team will reach its goal and surpass expectations once again will come down to one thing, said Aimaq.
“The biggest key for this team will be how well we can mesh together before we play in the conference tournament. This year, the conference is going to be really good and anyone can beat anyone. It’s just going to come down to two hoops and a basketball at the end of the day.”
The Wolverines will begin the season on the road at Boise State on Nov. 9 before getting a tune-up game at home against Antelope Valley in the UCCU Center on Nov. 12.
Brice Larson is currently a Junior at UVU majoring in communications with an emphasis in journalism and media studies. He enjoys everything about sports and one day hopes to become a college football analyst and play by play commentator.