Rebounding was bound to be a key to Seattle University's game tonight with Utah Valley being one of the top defensive rebounding teams in the nation.
So that the Redhawks beat the Wolverines 45 to 32 on the glass is impressive on its own. That they beat them 17 to 5 on the offensive boards for a 13 to 2 advantage in second chance points is even more impressive.
While Aaron Broussard and Garrett Lever led the team with 10 and nine rebounds respectively, guard Cervante Burrell led the offensive rebounding charge in the second half with three of the team's eight offensive rebounds to finish with 7 rebounds to complement his 15 points and five assists.
Sterling Carter is always exciting, but after scoring 14 points in the first half, he was 0-7 from the field in the second half. He'll pull threes from anywhere and clearly has the range, but Redhawks coach Cameron Dollar attributes the inconsistency moreso to adjusting to Division I basketball and the offense rather than solely poor decision-making.
"Being a freshman, you're going to have moments of not making the best decisions with your shot," said Dollar when asked about his 6-foot-0 freshman. "But bottom line is he's been 35 percent for us pretty much all year long and doing a good job. The tricky thing is if you watch his makes, they all come from broken plays. And he's got to evolve to be able to make his makes out of sets and off of guys' passes. He's been out of playing for two years, so he's really comfortable doing it out of a broken style of play. He's just got to evolve to doing it and when he does that, he'll be shooting 45, 48 percent from three. So he'll get there."
Despite some mental mistakes in the first half that led to four turnovers, last week's Great West Player of the Week Isiah Williams ended up with 14 points. However, as explosive and quick as he is, his 6-for-16 shooting performance is also something for the Redhawks to be generally pleased about. Dollar gave credit to gritty senior guard Garrett Lever for that.
"Honestly, we can just give him Garrett Lever and then we don't have to worry about that," said Dollar. "The only thing is sometimes you want three or four Garrett Lever's - you want to spread them around."
Seattle U's next game is against UC Davis on Tuesday, February 15, a week before the all-important showdown with the Washington Huskies.
After yet another turnover late in the first half, Utah Valley coach Dick Hunsaker yelled at star guard Isiah Williams that he had made a third grade play.
"Third grade!," he yelled to reiterate his point.
I'm not sure why he felt the need to repeat this point, but he did. And after that point down nine points with about four minutes left in the half, UVU seemed to turn things around and finished the half without making any turnovers to head into the locker room at halftime 35-32.
Early in the game, UVU was completely out of sync, finding a number of backdoor gaps in SU's defense but making a number of bad passes early in the offense to commit 12 turnovers for the half.
Holton Hunsaker was impressive running point, finishing the half with eight points and two assists while Sterling Carter led Seattle U with 14 points on 5-for-11 shooting, showing once again that he has no conscience from beyond the arc.
It's difficult to call Seattle University's season disappointing.
After having an outstanding first campaign in Division I basketball last season, they had a tougher schedule than last season and were without a standout pro prospect in Charles Garcia.
But at 8-15 the Redhawks will have to win their final seven games of the season - including their February 22 meeting with the Washington Huskies - to finish .500 this season. That final stretch begins tonight and the hot Utah Valley Wolverines aren't exactly a cupcake opponent.
14-9 Utah Valley is currently first place in the Great West conference and has won 8 of their last 9 contests, including an 89-73 win at home against Seattle U. And although they don't play at quite the pace of the Redhawks, the Wolverines know how to score as their 78.1 points per game rank 22nd in the nation and they go about it aggressively with the 1th highest free throw rate in the nation.
But the bigger concern for the Redhawks might be neither the Wolverines' scoring or ability to get to the line, but their rebounding.
Key statistical battleground: rebounding
Utah Valley is not necessarily a dominant offensive rebounding team, but they hold an outstanding differential with their opponents because they are indeed a dominant defensive rebounding team. They are currently ranked second in the nation with 28.3 defensive rebounds per game, which helps them to a healthy 7 percent offensive rebounding percentage differential.
Players to watch
Geddes Robinson, F (6-foot-5, 235, Jr.)
If rebounding ends up being the difference in tonight's game, Robinson figures to be a factor. He is the top rebounder in the Great West with 9.21 per game and also has the best free throw rate on the team, getting to the line just over four times per game. So if nothing else, the Redhawks will have to watch him for second chance opportunities.
Williams led the Wolverines to two conference wins last week, scoring a career-high 33 points, including a school-record tying 7 of 10 from beyond the arc, in an 88-84 win at Texas-Pan American. The junior from Chicago then scored 24 points and had five rebounds in a 73-66 win at Houston Baptist.
Williams leads the team in scoring with 18 points per game and is going to have the ball as the team's primary option on a majority of their possessions. Although he has the lowest free throw rate of any player on this aggressive team, he also hits the second highest percentage at 86%.
At the very least, the fact that their leading scorer and primary offensive option isn't the one responsible for their outstanding free throw rate says that this is a balanced team that can find multiple ways to beat you.