UAB’s semifinal opponent in the NIT Final Four is Utah Valley. The teams will play on Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m. CT at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Who is Utah Valley?
That’s an expected question for those of us in this part of the country. And, frankly, one that some folks in Orem, Utah, might be asking about UAB, even though the Blazers have a rich basketball tradition. The teams have met once on the basketball court, with Utah Valley emerging with a 66-55 victory over the Blazers during Rob Ehsan’s final season as the program’s head coach in 2019-20.
We take a look at Utah Valley as the Blazers prepare for their third NIT Final Four appearance in school history.
Head coach: Mark Madsen is in his fourth season at the school. He is 69-50 overall and making his first appearance in the postseason. Madsen, who earned the nickname “Mad Dog” during his playing days, was part of four NCAA Tournament teams at Stanford. He played in the Final Four in 1998. He was a first-round pick by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2000 NBA draft, earning two championship rings in his three seasons with the team. He played six seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He was an assistant coach in the NBA developmental league, Stanford and the Lakers. Utah Valley is 47-20 over the last two seasons.
This season: The Wolverines are 28-8 and won the WAC regular season title with a 15-3 conference record. They beat Sam Houston by a game. The Wolverines lost to a pair of NCAA Tournament teams – Utah State and Boise State – but also have losses to Morgan State and Tarleton. Regular season wins included BYU, Oregon and Sam Houston. In the NIT, the Wolverines won at New Mexico (83-69) and Colorado (81-69) and at home over Cincinnati (74-68).
Key players: Four players score in double figures for Utah Valley. Justin Harmon averages 13.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 3.1 turnovers per game and Le'Tre Darthard averages 13.8 points and 3.5 rebounds per game. Both are 6-foot-4, 180-pound juniors. Trey Woodbury, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound senior, averages 13.7 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Darthard and Woodbury are tied for the team lead with 67 3-pointers each. Woodbury hits 40.6 percent on his 3-pointers, and Darthard hit 35.8 percent. Aziz Bandaoga is a force inside for the Wolverines. The 7-foot, 230-pound Akron transfer averages 11.5 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.8 blocked shots per game.
Key team stats: Utah Valley is one of the top rebounding teams in the country. The Wolverines are sixth in overall rebounds per game (40.06) and second in defensive rebounds per game (29.97). Utah Valley is fifth in field goal percentage defense (39 percent) and 23rd in 3-point field goal percentage defense (30.4 percent).
Men's basketball history: The program is still young, with the first season as a four-year university coming in 2003-04. Madsen is the third head coach in the program history. Current BYU head coach Mark Pope was 77-56 in four seasons at the school. His last two Wolverine teams finished 23-11 and 25-10 and played in the CBI in both of those seasons.
Utah Valley University tidbits: The university's enrollment of 41,262 is the largest in Utah … One of the largest public university ballroom dance program resides at Utah Valley … Utah Valley has sort of a homecourt advantage in the NIT Final Four, which will be held at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. That's also been the host site of the WAC Tournament since 2011, so the Wolverines know the venue well.
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