Saturday, December 9, 2006

$7.00 Well Spent

Utah Valley State College, North Dakota State, South Dakota State, The New Jersey Institute of Technology, Longwood University, Chicago State University, Indiana Univerity-Purdue University Fort Wayne, Savannah State, Texas Pan American, UC Davis, and Winston Salem all have something in common with Army, William & Mary, The Citadel, Northwestern and St. Francis of New York. Whatis that? Since 1948 (largely considered the time the NCAA tournament passed up the NIT tournament as the most prestigious tournament) none of these schools has ever been to the NCAA tournament.

Utah Valley State College has only been a four year insitution for five years, that's the same amount of time that it's division I basketball program has existed. They don't have a conference affiliation, they don't have a big time booster club and like the other 12 schools on the first list play as an independent at the division I level. It is the equivalent of being a "walk on" in the division I world.

"'Walk-on' - this still remains the proudest word I can apply to myself. Walk-on--there are resolve and backbone in that noun." Pat Conroy on being a "walk-on." There is no automatic bid the NCAA tournament, Utah Valley has no hope at post season glory. The biggest game of their season is on December 9th at home against in state brethren Utah State. The word "rival" doesn't apply to this game, UVSC is a walk-on, you don't have rivals as a walk-on. What UVSC does have is a beautiful on campus arena that seats eight thousand people in Orem, Utah. It's almost as if the basketball program came before the University itself.

UVSC's coach - Dick Hunsaker, spends most of the game two to six feet out on the court, prodding his team. The David O. McKay Center is probably eighty percent full (half with Utah State fans) and everyone in the building knows a win in this game will legitimize UVSC's "walk on" status.

In the first half, Hunsaker's squad milks the shot clock down to below ten seconds on virtually every possession and Utah State's star, Jaycee Carroll, picks up two questionable first half fouls. He spends most of the half on the bench and is limited to six points by good UVSC defense and the fouls. At the half UVSC leads by a point 27-26 - Hunsaker's slowdown approach and home officiating is paying dividends. The crowd senses their legitimizing win is a possibility.

Incredibly, no one in the crowd gets up to go anywhere at half time. I am baffled by this. Until the "Grandma drill team" is introduced. In a creative marketing effort UVSC has comprised a drill team of 100 grandma's with over 1000 children and grandchildren to perform at halftime. The crowd's largest cheers of the entire evening (including during the game) are reserved for a 90 year old grandma - Jane Petty - who finishes the show with a Roquette style leg kick and two sets of splits and midcourt! It's easily the most anticipated event of the evening and the crowd goes bananas.

The second half tries to follow this act with the mid-majors 9th leading scorer finding ways to get to the basket. Carroll hits three straight runners and Utah State opens up a seven point lead. Hunsaker continues prodding his team and working the officials.

"If you do not think that contempt of home crowds does not file down the rough edges of a referee's psyche, then you know little of the game of basketball." Pat Conroy on home officiating. Carroll picks up a ticky tack 4th foul with just over five minutes left in the game and he is forced to the bench. Utah State has ten team fouls while UVSC has only four. UVSC gets a huge three point basket from Richard Troyer and it closes the gap to 64-63. It's as intense a basketball game as will happen at this point in the season. UVSC is trying to take their spot as a legitimate Division I team in Utah.

With under thirty seconds remaining and only four seconds on the shot clock everyone in the McKay Center is expecting Carroll who in spite of the foul trouble, now has 18 points on 9 of 12 shooting, to take one last big shot. Everyone, but Durrall Peterson, who for the second consecutive game (he previously hit a game winner against Utah on Wednesday night) hits a three pointer from the corner to put the Aggies up 67-63.

It is still not enough! David Heck answers for UVSC with a two pointer of his own. With under twenty seconds remaining UVSC is forced to foul, incredibly, UVSC still doesn't have seven team fouls and they are forced to waste time to get to seven. The seventh foul is committed against Peterson who goes to the line and sinks both free throws and UVSC's chance at legitimizing it's program.

Amazingly, the price of admission for all this - $7.00.

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