Mitch Bruneel hit two free throws with 2.0 seconds left to keep Utah Valley University alone atop the WAC at 4-0 with a 52-51 win at Seattle University on Sunday at KeyArena.
With the NFC Championship game taking place just 2.5 miles down the road, it seemed fitting that a fumbled ball and a recovery by Bruneel factored into the UVU win. The Wolverines (10-7, 4-0) trailed 51-50 with 3.9 seconds to go and the Redhawks (9-9, 1-4) had possession, but the inbounds pass to Isiah Umipig went free and Bruneel grabbed it before being tripped and fouled.
The two free throws established a career-high 20 points - which he set with 18 in Thursday’s win at Idaho - and helped UVU to its fifth straight win overall.
“It was a tough, hard-fought, back-and-forth battle,” Utah Valley coach Dick Hunsaker said. “Seattle presents matchup problems for us with their size and athleticism and they protected the rim well all night. Give our team a lot of credit. The kids played their hearts out.”
Aird scored 11 points and pulled down 11 of his 12 rebounds in the second half. Holton Hunsaker finished with 11 points and four assists for UVU. Seattle was led by 12 points by Deshaun Sunderhaus with Jarell Flora scoring 11 off the bench.
Sunderhaus gave the Redhawks a 51-50 lead with 18.0 seconds left, following his own miss with a put back. The league’s leading scorer at 20.1 points per game, Umipig finished with six points and was held scoreless in the second half.
In the first half, the Wolverines converted on eight 3-pointers, getting their first 15 points all from three. Bruneel hit the first three 3-pointers and Aird the next two. After Hunsaker hit two free throws, he followed that with a 3-pointer from the corner, giving UVU a 20-19 lead and a 6-for-8 start from three.
The Redhawks led 28-23 before UVU closed the half on an 8-0 run to lead 31-28 at the break. Hunsaker hit his second three to get the Wolverines within a point before Brenden Evans came up with a steal and Keawe Enos gave UVU a 29-28 advantage with a 3-pointer. Bruneel finished the half with a reverse layup just before time expired.
Hunsaker and Bruneel scored 11 apiece to lead the way, with UVU hitting 8-for-17 from the 3-point line in the half.
After Utah Valley scored the first point of the second half, Seattle scored seven straight to take a 35-32 lead before an Aird tip-in ended a drought from the field.
Trailing by five, the Wolverines ran off 10 straight points to take a 46-41 lead. Bruneel scored on a layup, Garrity hit a bank shot and three free throws put Utah Valley in front, 43-41, with 7:35 to go. Two offensive rebounds – by Bruneel and Aird – gave the Wolverines a third opportunity, and Garrity delivered with a three, the only one of the second half for Utah Valley, to cap the run.
The Redhawks scored the next five points to tie the game for the fourth time on the night and added to that with an Emerson Murray free throw with 3:56 remaining, giving SU an 47-46 lead. From there the lead changed hands five times before the deciding free throws.
The Wolverines return home for two WAC games this week. Kansas City comes to the UCCU Center on Thursday with Chicago State in town Saturday night.
Clint Burgi is the assistant athletic director for sports information at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.