Entering the 2011-12 campaign, seniors Isiah Williams and Geddes Robinson were the headliners garnering all the attention.
Williams was the returning All-American Honorable Mention, a scorer capable of 20-plus points on any given night. Robinson brought an elite level of defense and rebounding, heightened after a rigid offseason workout regime.
With the media and opposition focused on them, sophomores Holton Hunsaker and Ben Aird have been free to produce and, ultimately, flourish.
Aird in particular has come alive recently, leading the time in rebounding in their last four contests despite the presence of Robinson, who ranks in the nation’s top 20 in rebounding. He’s scored 59 points over the last three games, including a 25-point, 10-rebound effort last Monday against Montana Tech.
The spurt vaulted Aird from fourth to second on the team in scoring (10.4ppg) while earning him Great West Conference Player of the Week honors. Aird’s emergence has given UVU a double-post threat when both he and Robinson are on the floor.
“Coach [Dick Hunsaker] has been emphasizing the fact that we need to score inside,” Aird said. “More than anything our teammates and the coaching plan has been putting us in good positions to be successful.”
The Wolverines’ 11-game winning streak says it’s working. And while Aird has answered Robinson’s production inside, Holton Hunsaker has done likewise for Williams on the perimeter. Hunsaker led the team in scoring twice during their 11-game wining streak, both efforts coming against Chicago State.
Despite directing the offense through Robinson, Williams and Aird, the sophomore guard has found time to hurt opponents for 89 free throw attempts, good for third on the team.
He’s made 81 of them.
“Isiah demands a lot of attention with his scoring ability,” Aird said. “If they double-team him, that’s going to give Holton opportunities for open shots.”
The recent good play from Aird and Hunsaker has made the respective loads of Williams, Robinson and Keith Thompson easier to shoulder. All five starters are averaging at least nine points per game, with Williams (15.7) leading the team instead of carrying it.
That, Aird said, is the biggest benefit from his and Hunsaker’s increased production.
“It’s given us a chance to step up when we’re needed and, when the time is right, to carry the team when it’s needed,” Aird said. “When they’re going hot, we can support them in the roles they have, so I think it’s a really good balance that we have.”
It’s been a while:
Utah Valley’s 11-game winning streak is the 7th longest in NCAA Division I, with their last loss coming to Wyoming on Jan. 3. The Cowboys were 12-2 at the time and won 76-70.
The Wolverines will have had 10 days off before Thursday’s home game against Houston Baptist, and Aird admitted to having mixed feelings about the time off.
“It’s kind of nice to actually have a little break and get your legs back,” Aird said. “At the same time, when you’re playing lots of games like we’ve been doing, and when you’re rolling, you kind of just feel good and it’s nice to keep going. I think a break is the right thing for our team right now to get our legs back and get ready for the next stretch that we have.”
Free throw whoas and woes:
Hunsaker’s 91-percent clip from the free throw line is as needed as it is impressive. Despite the sophomore’s accuracy, UVU is shooting just 68.6 percent as a team from the charity stripe.
Robinson and Thompson are a big reason for the plummet. Robinson leads the team with 114 attempts, but has hit just under 51 percent of them. Thompson checks in at 58.7 percent.
By Matt Petersen