The Utah Valley Wolverines will have to display endurance to stand a chance as they challenge the eighth-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys in a non-conference tilt at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Utah Valley improved to 2-0 on Monday night with a 78-71 victory over North Carolina A&T at the OCCU Center. The Wolverines will travel just under 850 miles on game day before they take aim at an upset of the Cowboys. Coach Dick Hunsaker's squad built a 35-28 lead by the intermission and protected its advantage, hitting 56.5 percent of its field goal tries in the second half versus NC A&T. The Wolverines, who made the move from the Great West Conference to the Western Athletic Conference this season, began their 2013-14 campaign with a 74-66 decision over IUPUI.
The Cowboys entered the 2013-14 season with high expectations after earning 24 wins before being upset by Oregon in the second round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Travis Ford's squad began the campaign on a strong note as it completed a 117-62 rout of the Mississippi Valley Delta Devils on Friday. Oklahoma State hit on 61.3 percent of its shots from the field and outrebounded the Delta Devils, 44-33, to earn the season-opening victory.
This will be the first meeting in history between the teams.
Holton Hunsaker has been the key to the Wolverines' attack with 34 points through the first two games. The senior guard struggled from the floor on Monday, hitting on just 4-of-15 field goal tries, but sank 5-of-6 attempts at the charity stripe and dealt out three assists. Ben Aird posted his first double-double of the campaign against NC A&T with 15 points and 12 boards, while Zach Nelson tallied 12 points and six assists. Mitch Bruneel was highly efficient, netting 14 points on 4-of-6 shooting from the field to go along with five boards, one block and a steal. To engineer an upset in Stillwater, Utah Valley will have to improve its perimeter shooting as it has knocked down only 28.6 percent of its shots from beyond the arc so far.
Hunsaker will have his hands full as he tries to counter OSU's star studded backcourt of Markel Brown and Marcus Smart, who combined for 25 points and seven assists against MVSU despite playing 20 and 19 minutes, respectively. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Smart immediately made the Cowboys a national title contender when he announced he would return to Stillwater for a second season. He posted impressive averages of 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and three steals per outing as a rookie. Brown tallied 15.3 ppg and Le'Bryan Nash added 14 ppg last season. With all three back in the fold, the Cowboys have arguably the best trio in college basketball in their starting lineup. Nash posted a double-double with 21 points and 10 boards against the Delta Devils. Phil Forte showed he is going to be an asset off the bench with 22 points that was powered by a 4-of-7 clip from beyond the arc.