Utah Valley
Trey Woodbury and Utah Valley had a historic year setting new single season record for wins and adding a regular season crown to the mix, too. Courtesy Western Athletic Conference

Utah Valley MBB: Top-5 Moments from 2022-23

For the third time since joining the Western Athletic Conference in 2013-14, the Utah Valley men’s basketball team won a regular season championship. Behind the strength of Trey Woodbury, Justin Harmon, Aziz Bandaogo, Le’Tre Darthard, Tim Fuller and the rest of the Wolverines, Utah Valley took care of business. 28 wins is program record. Aziz Bandaogo set a new record for blocks in a single season. There was the NIT run that included a big win at home on national television. Mark Madsen was named Coach of the Year, Aziz Bandaogo was Defensive Player of the Year as well as Newcomer of the Year.

It was one of those seasons that will go down in the history books for the Wolverines. About the only thing that went wrong was an 18-minute stretch in the WAC semifinals against rival Southern Utah. We won’t go into detail regarding that game since it is still too painful to talk about.

28 wins is impressive when you consider the start. There was the double digit loss at Utah State to begin the season. Then a heartbreaking overtime loss at Wake Forest. Add in an embarrassing loss to Morgan State at the Jersey Mike’s Jamaica Classic. And the start of the 2022-23 season was not great.

Things changed, though, after Thanksgiving. BYU and Oregon can attest to that. Sam Houston will also tell you Utah Valley was pretty darn good. 11 straight wins starting on Dec. 3. Utah Valley then won eight of its final nine regular season games to clinch the outright WAC regular season crown. In the outright clincher on Senior Night, Utah Valley set a new UCCU Center record with 113 points in a blowout win over SFA.

Sure, Utah Valley didn’t go to the NCAA Tournament. And we will never know if they could have won a game or two. But, they took out some anger from that WAC semifinal loss in the NIT. Blowout wins at New Mexico and Colorado led to hosting an NIT game in Orem. And against Cincinnati, the Wolverines jumped out big, then held on to advance to the NIT semifinals back at that same Orleans Arena where heartbreak took place a few weeks prior.

Let’s recap a little more in-depth the top-5 moments from a historic 2022-23 season.

Aziz Bandaogo won Defensive Player of the Year as well as Newcomer of the Year in 2022-23. Courtesy Western Athletic Conference.

1 – Host an NIT Game on national television

People might think it is crazy to list this as the top moment. But, how can it not be? First, when was the last time Utah Valley got to host a game played in a national tournament? NEVER. Second, when was the last time Utah Valley sold out the UCCU Center for someone other than BYU? NEVER. Third, how often does Utah Valley get to play on national television in a standalone game? NEVER. Do you get the point? Along with that, how many WAC teams can hang a banner that says FINAL FOUR? Seattle U has one. But, can you think of any other current WAC teams? Utah Valley will get to hang a banner that says FINAL FOUR on it after its big time run in the NIT. The atmosphere was electric on that Wednesday night in Orem. Even Cincinnati head coach Wes Miller was impressed with the crowd that showed up at the UCCU Center.

Miller had this to say after the game.

“This was special tonight. It was loud. It should be like that every night with the job that Mark (Madsen) has done.”

He was spot on. Hosting an NIT game, even if for a weird circumstance that made it so Cincinnati couldn’t host, was huge for Utah Valley.

2 – WAC Regular Season Champs

Perhaps the biggest reason this isn’t the top moment is because winning an outright regular season title isn’t as big as years’ past. The reason for that is because of the WAC Seeding System. You see, despite winning the outright regular season championship, and having a head-to-head win over Sam Houston, Utah Valley entered the WAC tournament as the 2-seed. Yep, you read that correctly. Despite going 15-3 in WAC play, a game better than Sam Houston’s 14-4, the Bearkats were still the top seed.

However, with that being said, the Wolverines ran the gauntlet. Plain and simple. Remember UTRGV head coach Matt Figger’s response when the conference schedule came out last July?

“I look at this schedule and ask myself ‘where in the hell am I gonna get a win?'”

Well, Utah Valley did just that. The Wolverines opened WAC play with five straight wins before a wild home loss to Seattle U, courtesy of Riley Grigsby. There was the wild win at GCU that came down to free throws before a loss at rival SUU in front of a sold out America First Events Center. Then came a 5-game win streak followed by the debacle at Wisdom Gym. Trey Woodbury got three technical fouls in the ball game in a 19-point loss to Tarleton.

Following a close win over ACU to cap off life on the road, Utah Valley returned home with blowout wins over UT Arlington and SFA to wrap up the regular season crown. It is the third regular season crown for the Wolverines, second most over the past decade behind New Mexico State. Pretty wild to think about, huh?

3 – Another Win in Provo

Sure, the Marriott Center is about five miles from the UCCU Center. Not that far so people might think it insignificant in that aspect. But, any time you win in the Marriott Center in front of 13,000 fans, it’s a good thing, especially if you are wearing green and white. Utah Valley holds the record for most points scored by an opponent in the Marriott Center. You remember that, right? Yes, in 2016, two days after Thanksgiving, the Wolverines hit 18 3-pointers in a 114-101 win at BYU. Well, the Wolverines picked up another win in the Marriott Center nearly six years to the day of that first win in Provo. Justin Harmon had another big game against the Cougars, going for 19 points as Utah Valley cruised a 75-60 win over the Cougars.

Tahj Small may have put the dagger in early with a one-handed flush in transition off a long pass from Blaze Nield. That happened with almost eight minutes to play. But, it took any and all life out of the Cougar faithful. The Wolverines have now won back-to-back games against the Cougars. And it might be safe to say BYU won’t be on the schedule for a few years.

Justin Harmon put a show on in an upset win over BYU for the second straight year. Courtesy Western Athletic Conference.

4 – Road Win at Oregon

The Wolverines played at Utah State, at Wake Forest, at Boise State, at BYU, and at Oregon in 2022-23. That is pretty brutal. All five of those opponents finished in the top-100 in the NET. Three of the five would have been considered Quad I wins. So, no easy stretch by any imagination. And when Utah Valley went into Eugene to take on the Ducks, not many people gave them a chance. Good thing Trey Woodbury doesn’t care what other people think. Woodbury went for 24 points and nine rebounds in an upset win at Matthew Knight Arena.

Utah Valley used a big run right before halftime to take a 17-point lead into the break before holding on for dear life down the stretch. Woodbury also had six assists and three steals in the win. Justin Harmon had 13 points and Tim Ceaser came off the bench and scored 13 big points. The win set the stage for a big time WAC opener against Sam Houston.

5 – Run to the NIT Final Four

Yes, the NIT was the consolation for blowing a 23-point lead in the WAC semifinals. But, instead of backing their way into the NIT and just showing up, the Wolverines showed out, too. First, Justin Harmon took it upon himself to make sure the season did not end in Albuquerque. 32 points later and Harmon and the Wolverines walked out The Pit with a dominating 83-69 win over the Lobos.

Four nights later at the CU Events Center, against another Pac-12 foe, Harmon and Trey Woodbury combined for 43 points in an 81-69 win over Colorado. The Wolverines used a big second half, outscoring the Buffs 43-31, to advance to the NIT quarterfinals.

In a bizarre twist, a new floor was being put down at Fifth Third Arena, so after beating Colorado, Utah Valley got to host an NIT game. On ESPN2. Packed UCCU Center. And it lived up to the hype. Trey Woodbury and Justin Harmon each had 17 points. Aziz Bandaogo had 15 points and 12 rebounds. And Tim Fuller was also in double figures to lead Utah Valley to a win in arguably the biggest game in the Division I era.

Sure, the ending script wasn’t quite what you would expect. A few days prior to facing UAB in the NIT semifinals in Las Vegas, everyone knew there would be a coaching change. Mark Madsen was to take the reins at Cal following the end of the Utah Valley season. However, that was almost delayed an extra few days when Trey Woodbury willed Utah Valley to knock off the Blazers. Unfortunately, the 88-86 loss ended a magical and history season for the Wolverines.

About the author

Kyle McDonald

Love everything about WAC Hoops so decided I wanted to write more about it and cover this amazing conference that just keeps getting better. Follow us on Twitter @wachoopsdigest for information, game analysis and much more.

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