The Utah Valley Community College men's basketball team has enjoyed a season of bests, including a best-ever No. 3 ranking in the NJCAA poll and a best-ever 26-4 overall record.
And earlier in the season, the Wolverines halted an rival's eight-year home win streak.And now, UVCC is enjoying its best chance to take a long-awaited trip to the NJCAA national tournament as the Wolverines host the Scenic West Athletic Conference (Region 18) tournament this week.
The UVCC Activity Center will be the site of both the men's and women's Region 18 tournaments, with first-round action beginning Thursday. Semifinals are Friday, with the championship games set for Saturday.
The home-court advantage isn't lost on UVCC Coach Duke Reid. "I feel it's worth 10 points for us to be on our own floor," said Reid, who admitted that having his team at home isn't without a few distractions.
But with all that has been going the Wolverines' way this season, Reid says "to falter now would be a travesty for these kids and for me."
UVCC is ranked third in the final NJCAA poll of the year, ahead of 10th-ranked College of Southern Idaho 28-3. The two region rivals have enjoyed some fierce battles in recent years - this year, CSI edged UVCC for the regular-season Scenic West title, while the Wolverines swept the Golden Eagles this season, including a victory at Twin Falls, Idaho, which halted CSI's eight-year home-winning streak at 137 games.
Southern Idaho has enjoyed a six-year stronghold on the Region 18 tournament, winning the NJCAA championship in 1987 and finishing as national runner-up in 1990. And during the other four years that CSI has won the league tournament and advanced to the national tournament, the Golden Eagles have made the JC Elite Eight two other times.
The last non-CSI team to win the Region 18 tournament was Dixie College in 1985 - the same year the Rebels went on to claim the national crown.
Reid isn't shy when it comes to calling the Scenic West Athletic Conference "the best league in America." The Region 18 tournament serves as more than just a preparatory course for the annual NJCAA national tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas.
"They claim if you get out of here (the Region 18 tourney), it's easier from there on out."
In Thursday's first-round match-ups, Kris Hill leads the College of Eastern Utah's strong inside game against perimeter-oriented Ricks College, while Dixie College and league scoring leader Walter Outlaw take on a balanced Northern Idaho College squad.
In the two nightcap contests, UVCC seeks to avenge a late-season loss to Snow College, while perennial post-season spoiler Salt Lake Community College meets Southern Idaho in a rematch of last year's tournament title game.
Region 18 women's tournament
For the second year, the Scenic West women will share the same tournament site as their male counterparts. And it's fitting that Utah Valley is the host, since the Lady Wolverines are the three-time regular-season champions with a No. 9 national ranking.
With a 26-2 overall record, UVCC is one of the country's top 10 squads in team scoring - the Lady Wolverines readied themselves for the league playoffs with a 111-point regular-season finale against Dixie last weekend. UVCC's Melani Francis and Kim Bird have been among the Scenic West's scoring leaders all season.
"It's not like we haven't we haven't been here before," said UVCC women's coach Tom Perkins, whose teams have won three consecutive conference crowns and have made the Region 18 tourney six of past seven years.
UVCC defeated tourney host CSI last year and finished tied for ninth at the 1991 NJCAA tournament in Tyler, Texas. UVCC is seeded first and CSI second in this year's women's pairings, with both enjoying a first-round bye.
Thursday's first-round games has Ricks College pitting its strong guard play against Salt Lake Community College, which has suffered through the loss of several starters to injuries during the past month. And NIC hopes to continue its strong play during the season's final month against Snow College.