A season-long winning streak can definitely turn a season around and give a team much-needed confidence.
With a road win against winless New Jersey Institute of Technology, Utah Valley (11-13) had won five in a row before facing Chicago State in a rematch over the weekend.
While shooting guard Ryan Toolson continues to play impressively, other players have started to step up late this season.
Toolson led the team in scoring as usual, with 29 points, but three of the team’s other starters also played important roles.
"We’ve started to pick up the defense, and that was where we had been struggling," said point guard Josh Olsen, who scored a career-high 16 points to go with seven assists. "Good defense turns into good opportunities offensively."
Senior forwards Jordan Brady, 10 points and nine rebounds, and Richard Troyer, 11 points, added to what the guards accomplished.
Toolson has been consistently leading the team in scoring all season (23.1 ppg), and in the last five games Brady (11.8), Troyer (12.6), and Olsen (10.4) are all averaging double figures.
And like Olsen said, the defense has improved for him and the team: 10 of his team-high 35 steals were in the last five games. On this winning streak, Utah Valley has held opponents to 40.3 percent shooting from the field, compared to the four games before when the team was giving up 50.7 percent shooting from the field.
Coach Dick Hunsaker has always been a defensive-minded coach, and after the team beat Arkansas State, he was happy with the effort on that side of the court by several players.
"Richard [Troyer] made great plays in the first half, Josh [Olsen] made some hustle plays, and Matt Komenda and Jordan Swarbrick made some big plays," he said.
One area still in need of improvement is the team’s bench. Hunsaker has changed lineups and rotations a number of times this season looking for the right combinations. After Brady, Troyer, Toolson and Olsen there’s been a noticeable drop off. Freshman guard Kevin Woods and freshman center Brian Anderson have played significant time at different points in the season but haven’t been consistent enough to play regurlarly. Junior guard Jabir Jinna, Swarbrick and Komenda are all seeing double figure minutes, but their impact is different game to game.
Still, there’s been marked improvement since the schedule eased with Independent play. The team will finish out its road season with games against Savannah State and North Carolina Central up next.