Since UVU started playing Division I basketball in 2003-04, there have been some special moments, like when the Wolverines tied for the WAC title in 2013-14 and of course when they beat BYU in Provo in 2016.
But the biggest prize of all — a spot in the NCAA tournament — has so far eluded UVU.
Will this be the year that changes?
Wolverine head coach Mark Madsen and his staff are going to do everything in their power to make that happen because he wants that experience for his athletes.
“I would feel elated if that happened but but I would say the biggest thing I would feel is satisfaction and happiness for the players in this program,” Madsen said in a phone interview earlier this week. “This game is all about the players. It’s a coach’s job to not mess things up and to try to grease the wheels a little bit. This game is all about the players so I would be so excited for the players, and for the staffs and the families and for the school. You want the players to be able to compete on the biggest stage.”
Madsen knows what it is like, since he got to experience it as a player at Stanford in the 1990s.
“It is the pinnacle of college basketball,” Madsen said. “I’ll never forget as a freshman, we were fortunate and won our first two games. We were in the Sweet 16 against the University of Utah. They beat us. I remember I made a jump hook in the game, then late in the game I jumped up to make another jump hook and the ball just sailed out of my hands. It was the experience and the relationships that were meaningful, that I’ll never forget and never take for granted.”
He dreams of seeing his guys getting the experience of walking onto the floor in Indianapolis next week for a jump ball, regardless of the seeding.
“Throw the ball up and let the chips fall where they may,” Madsen said. “We’re gonna be out there fighting hard.”
That dream could become a reality if UVU can find a way to win back-to-back games this weekend at the WAC tournament in Las Vegas.
The Wolverines tied for the league title but ended up as the No. 2-seed due to tiebreakers. That meant they got a bye to the semifinals, where they will face the winner of Thursday night’s game between No. 3-seed New Mexico State and No. 6-seed UT Rio Grande Valley.
“When it’s all said and done, being WAC co-champions is fantastic,” Madsen said. “This is a player led team. We have great players and we have great people. They’ve also bought into the system and they deserve all the success that they’ve gotten and more.”
Victory in that game, which won’t be easy, will then result in a spot in Saturday’s WAC title game. The winner of that contest then gets the automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.
It’s not easy to play games on consecutive days but with the pandemic adjust scheduling, that became commonplace in the WAC this season. This is where those experiences might pay dividends because teams are used to that format.
“It’s not easy because as a player you finished the game and you’re exhausted,” Madsen said. “Players are tending to injuries, to bumps and bruises. As coaches, we’re diving straight into the film to try to figure out what happened. We’re in practice for that but every team is in practice. Now’s the chance to reap the rewards of it for a team. Hopefully it’s us.”
Everyone knows what it at stake as the Wolverines prepare to take the floor.
“I saw that one of the college beat writers on Twitter tweeted out that some huge number of top seeds have been knocked off around the country,” Madsen said. “It makes you realize it’s March. This is March, where anything can happen in college basketball. It’s a great time. This is an exciting time for the whole country.”
UVU is slated to take the floor in the semifinals Friday night at 9 p.m. MT. If the Wolverines win, they will play again in the championship Saturday at 8 p.m. MT
Both games will be played at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.