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UVU men’s basketball looking to continue historic postseason run in NIT quarterfinals

By Jared Lloyd - | Mar 21, 2023

Courtesy UVU

UVU junior Justin Harmon drives to the basket during the NIT second round game against Colorado in Boulder on Sunday, March 19, 2023.

Ready to stump college basketball fans with a little bit of trivia?

Here’s the question: Which men’s hoops squad has the most road wins in the 2022-23 season?

If they get it right, you can be pretty certain they are fans of Utah Valley.

That’s because the Wolverines added wins at New Mexico and Colorado in the first two rounds of the NIT, meaning that 12 of their school-record 27 total victories came in hostile environments.

“That’s a reflection of these players,” UVU head coach Mark Madsen said in a phone interview on Monday. “That’s a reflection of their toughness, their professionalism. We talk all season long about what it takes to win on the road. You have to defend. You have to rebound. All the little things matter. We talk about controlling anything on the court that is controllable and that’s gonna help you win on the road.”

Courtesy UVU

UVU sophomore Aziz Bandaogo goes up for dunk during the NIT second round game against Colorado in Boulder on Sunday, March 19, 2023.

The Wolverines won’t have any more chances to increase their road win total — but that’s not a bad thing.

Instead, UVU (and particularly its seniors) gets one more chance to play in the familiar confines of the UCCU Center in Orem when the Wolverines host Cincinnati in the NIT quarterfinals on Wednesday (7 p.m. MT, ESPN2).

“There’s no one else playing a home game at the university level in Utah right now,” Madsen said. “We’re the only one and so with that right there, I’m hopeful that this game draws people all the way from all across the state just because Utah appreciates basketball. There’s going to be high-level basketball.”

In many ways such an outcome seemed unlikely a week ago.

Not only was UVU unseeded and facing challenging contests against the Lobos in Albuquerque, N.M., and later the Buffaloes in Boulder, Colo., but they were also coming off the devastating disappointment of losing a game they controlled to Southern Utah in the WAC tournament semifinals.

Courtesy UVU

UVU senior Trey Woodbury drives to the basket during the NIT second round game against Colorado in Boulder on Sunday, March 19, 2023.

No team can know how it will handle such heartbreak until it goes through it, but Madsen said he saw positive signs before the team started the NIT.

“After our our quarterfinal loss in Vegas, it was tough,” Madsen said. “I think everybody needed some time so we actually just gave the guys two full days off. It was about getting away from everything and re-energizing. And the guys did that.

“When I really knew that our guys were ready to go again was the day before we played at New Mexico. We practiced in the Pit and the ESPN announcers were just commenting on how loose our guys seemed, the level of excitement and just the joy and happiness that they could see from our players. That’s when I knew that we’d be able to bounce back just fine.”

It made a big difference to have veterans who led the way for the team, both prior to the games and then after the ball was tipped.

Against the Lobos, junior Justin Harmon was almost unstoppable as he scored a career-high 32 points in the 83-69 Wolverine win, then it was senior Trey Woodbury’s turn to get hot as he scored 25 to lead the way in the nearly-identical 81-69 victory at Colorado.

Starters like junior Le’Tre Darthard, sophomore Aziz Bandaogo and senior Tim Fuller also played huge roles in the wins, as did the guys who came off the bench and contributed.

“Trey just played such a fantastic game (against the Buffaloes),” Madsen said. “When you look at his all around game, shooting, passing, rebounding and defense, he’s one of the top players in America. His consistency has shown that. He’s a key part of this team. He is the best passer I’ve ever coached and he just makes everyone around him better.

“But we got a lot of guys contributing. Aziz controls the defensive side of the ball. He prowls the paint and he’s almost like the SWAT team. People come in there and he intimidates, he blocks shots, he changes angles. And Justin Harmon has elevated his game in the postseason. He has really raised his level of play to reflect playoff basketball.”

UVU has needed them to play at a high level to be able to make the deepest postseason run in school history, and now they’ll need to do it again to keep their season alive against a very good Bearcat squad.

“Cincinnati has great size,” Madsen said. “They shoot the three extremely well but they also have a lot of guys who can put the ball on the deck and get to the rack. They have physicality inside. They really have all the pieces and are coming from a very competitive, tough conference. I think this is going to be one of the biggest opponents ever to come to the UCCU Center.”

He believes it will take a strong defensive effort from his guys to slow down the Bearcats, who enter the game with a 23-12 record and finished fourth in the American Athletic Conference.

The winner moves on to the NIT semifinals, which for the first time at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on March 28.


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