OREM, Utah — Utah Valley University opens its final season as a member of the Great West Conference — along with its attempt at a third straight league title — on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. in the UCCU Center against NJIT. The Wolverines (7-9) and Highlanders (6-8) were picked to finish first and second, respectively, in the preseason coaches' poll.
"NJIT is an athletic, veteran team. We have a lot of respect for them and know they'll be excited to open Great West play," UVU coach Dick Hunsaker said.
UVU split a pair of games at last week's Dr Pepper Classic, getting the program's first-ever triple-double from Nick Thompson in a win over Austin Peay and a 37-point effort from Holton Hunsaker in the championship game, a loss to host Chattanooga. Both players were named to the all-tournament team.
Thompson finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds and a school-record 12 assists to achieve the rare feat. Ben Aird also set a new career high in the same game, scoring 26 points. Hunsaker followed a 21-point output against Austin Peay with his career scoring night, knocking down a school-record-tying eight 3-pointers in the process. For his efforts Hunsaker received his third Great West Player of the Week honor, with all three coming in the last five weeks.
NJIT enters Saturday's game coming off of a loss at Lafayette on Wednesday. The Highlanders boast two of the top three scoring averages in the Great West including league-leader and preseason player of the year Chris Flores' 16.5 points per game. Ryan Woods is scoring 14.0 per game for fifth-year coach Jim Engles' squad. NJIT leads the league in both scoring offense and scoring defense.
Utah Valley and NJIT will be the first GWC game of the season. The rest of the schools begin league play next week. The Wolverines enter Saturday having won 21 of their last 23 GWC regular season games and have gone 20-2 over the past two championship-winning seasons.
UVU is 11-2 all-time vs. NJIT, but the Highlanders won the last meeting between the teams at last season's Great West Tournament, 88-78, in overtime. That game featured the leagues' last two conference players of the year and the conference's only two honorable mention All-Americans in Isiah Williams (UVU) and Isaiah Wilkerson (NJIT). Both players were seniors last year.
The Wolverines travel to Kansas City next Wednesday for a non-conference contest at UMKC before resuming league play Saturday, Jan. 12, at home against Houston Baptist.
Clint Burgi is the assistant athletic director for sports information at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.