Utah Valley opens the 2016-17 season at No. 13/14 Gonzaga on Friday night at the McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane, Washington. The game will mark the first-ever meeting against Gonzaga and the seventh time in team history that the Wolverines have faced a ranked opponent.
Utah Valley returns only three players from last year's team that went 12-18 in head coach Mark Pope's inaugural season. Ivory Young and Andrew Bastien are the lone returning starters from the 2015-16 season. Young ranked fourth on the team in scoring at 9.0 points per game and led UVU from long range, connecting on 37.7 percent (49-of-130) of his shots. Bastien led the team in blocks with 52.
The Wolverines welcome 11 new players to this year's roster, including five who sat out the 2014-15 season due to NCAA transfer rules or injuries. UVU welcomes eight transfers and three freshmen to the team. Three of UVU's newcomers will have to redshirt the season due to transfer rules. Two-year starter Zach Nelson, who sat out last season with injury, returns to the hardwood this season. The preseason all-WAC honoree is the lone remaining player from UVU's 2014 WAC regular season championship team.
Pope enters his second season as the head coach of the Utah Valley men's basketball team. The Kentucky graduate led a depleted and injury-riddled roster to 12 wins in his debut season, including wins over Weber State, UTSA and Idaho State.
UVU won its exhibition game on Monday night at the UCCU Center, defeating Division II foe Western State (Colorado), 113-87. Junior guard Brandon Randolph posted a triple-double in the win, tallying 20 points with 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
Gonzaga enters the season ranked No. 13 in the USA Today Preseason Coaches' Poll and No. 14 in the Associated Press Top 25 Preseason Poll. Gonzaga was selected to win the West Coast Conference for the 16th straight season in the WCC Preseason Coaches' Poll, receiving seven of the 10 first-place votes.
“This is going to be a tough test for us," Pope said. "Gonzaga is a national brand for a reason. They win a lot of games and are led by one of the top coaches in the nation. They are big and athletic. They have a lot of depth. The Kennel is obviously a tough place to play. They have a great home court advantage, but we will come in guns a blazin’ and see what we can get done against them. I know Gonzaga very well. I know firsthand how hard it is to play in that place. I know how quickly the game can go sideways there. We’re going in there to compete and we’re not going to slow it down. We’re going to go in and try to score 200 points.”
The team picked up a 122-76 exhibition win over West Georgia at the McCarthey Athletic Center on Saturday. Six players finished in double figures led by Nigel Williams-Goss' 20 points. The redshirt junior added eight rebounds and a game-high five assists. He made 7-of-12 shots from the field.
The Zags return eight letterwinners and one starter from last year's 28-8 team that made a run to the NCAA Sweet 16. Redshirt sophomore guard Josh Perkins is the lone returning starter from last year's squad. Perkins averaged 10.1 points, 4.1 assists and 3.3 rebounds last season. Seven-footer Przemek Karnowski returns for his senior year after playing just five games last season due to a back injury. The Poland native is the 39th player in Gonzaga history to top 1,000 career points. Both Perkins and Karnowski were named to the Preseason All-WCC team.
GU has won 27-straight regular season home openers dating back to 1988. Gonzaga has sold out the McCarthey Athletic Center 228-straight times. The Zags have won 162 of their 175 games played inside the arena since it opened in 2004.
Gonzaga is coached by Mark Few who is in his 18th year as the head coach of the program. Few is one of the most successful coaches in the NCAA as he has put together a 466-111 overall record. He has won 15 regular season league titles in his 17 seasons and has taken the Zags to the NCAA Tournament in each of his 17 seasons. Few is the winningest active coach by percentage (.808), followed by Roy Williams of North Carolina.
Utah Valley and Gonzaga meet on the basketball hardwood for the first time in the two team's history. The Wolverines hold an all-time 1-5 record against teams from the West Coast Conference.
Gonzaga assistant coach Donny Daniels is the father of Utah Valley assistant coach Eric Daniels. The father-son duo go head-to-head for the first time in their careers. Gonzaga redshirt junior Nigel Williams-Goss is the nephew of Utah Valley head wrestling coach Greg Williams.
Utah Valley holds an all-time 6-7 record in regular season openers since making the transition to Division I in 2003. The Wolverines have won three of their last five regular season openers dating back to the 2011-12 season.
Utah Valley and Gonzaga tip off at 7 p.m. MT. Friday's game at Gonzaga will be broadcast live on ROOT Sports Northwest and rebroadcast on ROOT Sports Rocky Mountain at 10 p.m. MST. Sam Adams and Richard Fox will be calling the action. The game will be streamed live online on TheW.tv.
The game will also be broadcast live on ESPN 960 AM radio with Jim McCulloch handling the play-by-play duties. A live stream of the radio broadcast will be available online through ESPN960sports and also through the ESPN 960 app, which is available for iPhone and Android.
Jason Erickson works in the communications office at the Utah Valley University athletic department. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.