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UVU basketball: Wolverines set for matchup with Cal in first round of NIT

By Clint Burgi

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, March 18 2014 3:30 p.m. MDT

Utah Valley faces California in the first round of the NIT on Wednesday.

Kellen Hiser, UVU Athletics

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WAC regular season champion Utah Valley University makes its first-ever appearance in the National Invitation Tournament when it faces California out of the Pac-12 on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. MT at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif. The Wolverines (20-11) are seeded No. 7 in their region — SMU is the No. 1 seed — with the Golden Bears (19-13) holding the second seed.

The Wolverines received an automatic bid to the tournament by winning the WAC regular season championship in their first season as part of the league. It’s also the first season in UVU’s brief NCAA DI era that it has competed in a league that holds automatic berths to the NCAA and NIT Tournaments.

This is the second time Utah Valley has appeared in a postseason tournament at the Division I level. The Wolverines played Weber State in the 2012 CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament.

This is Cal’s eighth appearance all-time in the NIT, and it has as a 1999 NIT Championship on its resume. The Golden Bears have gone 12-6 overall in the NIT and have also reached the quarterfinals on two other occasions. First-team All-Pac-12 performer Justin Cobbs leads Cal with 15.8 points and 5.8 assists per game. Three other Golden Bears average in double figures for head coach Mike Montgomery.

“With coach Montgomery’s coaching tree branching throughout the west and the nation, we have played against a number of his disciples and have familiarity with his successful philosophy,” UVU coach Dick Hunsaker said. “Obviously this is Pac-12 personnel, and their size, skill level and athleticism enhance his system.”

Cal owns a 2-0 series record against Utah Valley with wins on Nov. 15, 2006 (60-47) and Dec. 28, 2009 (85-51).

UVU lost 74-69 to Idaho in the semifinals of the WAC Tournament on Friday at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. The Wolverines defeated Texas-Pan American in the quarterfinals on Thursday, hitting 70.5 percent from the field in an 83-63 win. The team shooting percentage broke a nearly 30-year-old record, with Wyoming’s 65.9 percent in 1986 holding the mark for 28 years.

The 2014 NIT field features 32 teams seeded 1-8 in four different regions. The first three rounds of the NIT are played at host school sites, starting with the opening round March 18-19. Second round games will be contested March 20-24 and quarterfinals March 25-26. The semifinals and final are set for April 1 and 3, respectively, at Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y.

Last year’s NIT included Kentucky, Alabama and Virginia, a top seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament. The 2013 Final Four, played at Madison Square Garden each year, consisted of champion Baylor, runner-up Iowa, BYU and Maryland. The winner of Wednesday’s game will play the winner of No. 3 seed Arkansas and No. 6 seed Indiana State in the second round.

Clint Burgi is the assistant athletic director for sports information at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.