UVU led for all but 30 seconds of its 74-68 NIT quarterfinal victory over Cincinnati Wednesday evening in Orem. The Wolverines had an answer for every Bearcats’ blow, giving the school one of its biggest wins in program history.
“I’m so proud of these players,” UVU coach Mark Madsen said. “The successes they’ve had this year. ... They’ve earned it. They’ve earned every bit of it. They’ve earned it through hard work. So as a coach, as a coaching staff, we’re just incredibly proud of these players.”
Wednesday marked the first time that UVU had hosted a game in the NIT, only getting the opportunity because Cincinnati’s court was being redone. Wolverines fans made the most of it, packing in an announced crowd of 5,289 giving the Orem-based school an impressive home court advantage.
“I’ve never seen it that packed in here,” UVU senior guard Trey Woodbury said. “So that was a good experience for my last home game.”
Prior to Wednesday, UVU and Cincinnati had only ever faced each other one time, the result a blowout victory for the Bearcats in 2010.
More than a decade later, the two schools played a much more evenly matched contest.
After competing against some of the nation’s best teams this year, namely Houston on three different occasions, Cincinnati felt the Wolverines were a top notch squad.
“This is a really good basketball team with really good players and really well coached,” Cincinnati coach Wes Miller said. “So tip your cap to these guys. And that was a heck of an environment.”
Despite the Wolverines’ leading scorer on the year, Le’Tre Darthard, having zero points in the first half, UVU held a 39-33 advantage at intermission. Darthard ultimately would finish the evening with nine points, before being ejected on a second technical foul with less than 10 seconds to play.
The Wolverines held a decided advantage in the paint in the first half, outscoring the Bearcats 22-8 from down low ahead of the break. However, Cincinnati adjusted in the second half, winning the paint battle in the final 20 minutes by four points.
That was in part due to starting Bearcats forward Viktor Lakhin going scoreless in the first half and getting in foul trouble. The sophomore big man played better after halftime, scoring six points during a 8-0 Cincinnati run that tied the game at 41.
UVU regained control from there, sparked by a Justin Harmon fast break dunk that shifted momentum and gave the hosts the lead back for good.
“We came out in the second half a little flatfooted,” Woodbury said. “But we stuck together and we knew that if we keep playing hard that good things are going to happen.”
The Wolverines were led by Woodbury and Harmon who each finished the night with 17 points. Woodbury added six rebounds and seven assists in an impressive performance.
Cincinnati’s loss to the Wolverines brings the Bearcats’ season to a close. The Ohio-based school ends the year with a 23-13 record after beating Virginia Tech and Hofstra to advance to Wednesday’s contest with UVU.
The Wolverines march into the NIT semifinals following the win where they will face UAB on Tuesday evening at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, seeking to earn a spot in next Thursday’s NIT championship final.
The last time UVU played in the Orleans Arena was a heartbreaking loss to SUU in the WAC tournament. The Wolverines are excited to get a chance to make up for that defeat next week.
“We just went from … probably one of our all time lows in our basketball career (against) SUU to being back in a position to win big time games,” said Woodbury, a native of Las Vegas. “It’s just been a full circle.”
UVU will complete that circle when its semifinal contest tips off at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday.