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UVU basketball: Wolverines gear up for Cal in first-ever NIT berth

Published: Sunday, March 16 2014 10:25 p.m. MDT

UVU's Mitch Bruneel dunks the ball as UVU plays Texas Pan Am in the opening game of WAC tournament in Las Vegas on March 13, 2014. (August Miller, UVU Marketing) UVU's Mitch Bruneel dunks the ball as UVU plays Texas Pan Am in the opening game of WAC tournament in Las Vegas on March 13, 2014. (August Miller, UVU Marketing)

Utah Valley University is set to make its first NIT appearance on Wednesday when it travels to Berkeley, Calif., to face Cal of the Pac-12. The game will tip at 7:30 p.m. PT and air on ESPN3.

By virtue of its WAC regular season title, the Wolverines (20-11) received the automatic bid to the tournament in just their first season as members of the WAC. It’s also the first season in UVU’s brief NCAA DI era that the Wolverines have competed in a league that holds automatic berths to the NCAA and NIT Tournaments.

“Cal is athletic, has great personnel and a hall of fame coach in Mike Montgomery,” UVU head coach Dick Hunsaker said. “It will be a very tough challenge but it’s an exciting challenge. It’s great to be a part of the NIT.”

Utah Valley and Cal have met twice before, with the Golden Bears winning both meetings at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley. Cal defeated UVU on Nov. 15, 2006, 60-47, and on Dec. 28, 2009, 85-51.

UVU's Ben Aird (right) and Chad Ross (left) fight for a rebound over Texas Pan Am as UVU plays Texas Pan Am in the opening game of WAC tournament on March 13, 2014. (August Miller, UVU Marketing) UVU's Ben Aird (right) and Chad Ross (left) fight for a rebound over Texas Pan Am as UVU plays Texas Pan Am in the opening game of WAC tournament on March 13, 2014. (August Miller, UVU Marketing)

It will be the second time that Utah Valley has appeared in a postseason tournament at the DI level. The Wolverines played Weber State in the 2012 CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament.

Utah Valley finished the WAC regular season 13-3 and had two seniors, Ben Aird and Holton Hunsaker, named first team All-WAC. Dick Hunsaker was named the WAC’s Don Haskins Coach of the Year with Mitch Bruneel earning All-Defensive team honors and Zach Nelson All-Newcomer team honors.

UVU was upset, 74-69, by Idaho in the semifinals of the WAC Tournament on Friday. That game came on the heels of the best shooting night in the history of the tournament, hitting 70.5 percent in an 83-63 win over Texas-Pan American. It broke a nearly 30-year-old record, with Wyoming’s 65.9 percent in 1986 standing for 28 years.

The Wolverines faced five teams in 2013-14 that will participate in the NCAA Tournament, winning two of the six games against those schools.

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 the 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.

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