Call it a rivalry renewed. Utah Valley and Dixie State are once again re-united as conference foes. This time around, it looks a little bit different. Both schools are members of the Western Athletic Conference and compete at the NCAA Division I level. The last time these two were conference foes, both were in the Junior College ranks and competed in the Scenic West Athletic Conference.
In fact, you’d have to go back to March 9, 2003 for their last meeting as conference opponents. It was a battle for the Scenic West Athletic Conference tournament title. At that time, Utah Valley was still a State College (UVSC) and Dixie State held their old longtime mascot, “The Rebels.” Dixie’s head coach at the time was Jeff Kidder, and Utah Valley was led by the gritty Dick Hunsaker. The then Rebels were the defending NJCAA national champions. Utah Valley legend and Hall of Fame inductee Ronnie Price buried a three with 30 seconds left in the game to tie things up at 74 all. Dixie responded by scoring the games final four points and ultimately won, 78-74. If you want an exact count, it’s been 6,550 days. That is a long time. It’s almost as old as I am.
In the following season, Utah Valley left the Junior College ranks and jumped straight to the NCAA Division I level. Oh, and it is worth noting that no other school has successfully done that. Dixie eventually made their way up to the NCAA Division II level. Just last July, the Trailblazers officially made the jump to Division I and joined the Western Athletic Conference.
Dixie State at a Glance
Leading the way for the Trailblazers is junior guard Cameron Gooden. On the season, Gooden is averaging 14.2 points a contest while racking up just over three rebounds and three assists a game. Gooden is a crafty guard and will keep the likes of Jamison Overton or Trey Woodbury on their heels.
In the front-court for the Trailblazers is Hunter Schofield. Bit of a random note here but Schofield and myself are both graduates of Spanish Fork High School. It pains me he never ended up in a Wolverine uniform. Anyways, Schofield is an inside-outside threat who has a nice jump shot. Schofield knocks down 48 percent of his field goal attempts and scores 11.4 points per game.
Consistency is the name of the game for coach Jon Judkins and his team. When the Trailblazers are rolling, they are tough to beat. But, when the Trailblazers go cold, they go cold. So, which Dixie State team will show up in the dawn of a new era for the Old Hammer Rivalry?
Utah Valley on the other hand is coming off a two week break in which the Wolverines had an open weekend where they couldn’t find a game to be played. Although it was disappointing that a game wasn’t able to be scheduled, mid-season games are extremely difficult to find. The last time Utah Valley took the court they were upended by Tarleton State. It was a rough outing for the Wolverines, and they’re ready to come out firing in these rival games this weekend. Let’s break down the keys for Utah Valley to get back on track this conference season.
Offense Needs to be Clicking
In Utah Valley’s second matchup against Tarleton State, it was obvious what Billy Gillispie wanted his team to do defensively against the Wolverines. Send double, occasionally triple, teams to make life for Fardaws Aimaq and Evan Cole extremely uncomfortable.
It worked. Aimaq and Cole combined for only 17 points. Together, they average nearly 28 points a game. On paper, Utah Valley has a very balanced attack. Jamison Overton, Trey Woodbury, Fardaws Aimaq and Evan Cole all average double figure scoring. Jordan Brinson and Le’Tre Darthard have each hit double figures in multiple contests.
So, what’s key for the Utah Valley attack this weekend in these rivalry games?
“We always try to have a balanced attack, we go inside, we go outside,” Utah Valley head coach Mark Madsen said. “There are some teams that are going to triple team Fardaws. When that happens, we have other counters that we can go to.”
Dixie will send guys after Aimaq. They’re undersized when compared to the Wolverines, similar to Tarleton. How do you open up the middle though? You have to hit shots. It is so critical that the Wolverines hit their shots to open things up in the paint for Fardaws Aimaq and Evan Cole. I know it sounds cliche to say, “hit your shots.” If any team is knocking down shots they’ll be difficult to handle. The point is, hitting shots will be a big key for Utah Valley this weekend against Dixie State.
Playing at Their Own Tempo
In the second game between Utah Valley and Tarleton State, the Texans completely controlled the tempo of the game and forced Utah Valley to play how they did. It messed up the Wolverines, bad. Under Mark Madsen, Utah Valley has been absolutely brilliant in transition. However, the half court offense has been lackluster at times. Mark Madsen believes that Utah Valley will have to be the better team in both transition and their half court offense.
“We want to control the tempo,” Madsen said. “We want to take opportunities to get out and run whenever those opportunities are there. When the defense is back and set, we want to out-execute teams.”
It’s simple, but this is where Utah Valley will have to be good in this rivalry series. Utah Valley struggled to find any sort of rhythm against Tarleton. And you can almost guarantee this is something that was worked on a lot in preparation for the series this weekend.
Taking Care of Business
Simply put, Utah Valley needs to take care of business this weekend. They failed to do so against Tarleton State two weeks ago, and they cannot let it happen again. Don’t get me wrong, Dixie State is a good team, and they are very well coached. Having not played for nearly two weeks doesn’t help, either.
But, if Utah Valley wants to accomplish the goals that they have set for themselves this conference season, they have to get a sweep this weekend.
I’ll call a spade a spade here, Utah Valley is the better team. They need to go out there and show it this weekend. However, rivalry games are tricky.
The Trailblazers will be eager to go out and steal a game, if not both. The Wolverines need to come out fired up to play in both games and be ready for a dogfight, because I anticipate that’s what we’re going to get in this renewed rivalry.
I think that because Utah Valley hasn’t played in two weeks and are coming off a disappointing loss to Tarleton State, the Wolverines will be ready to go. It won’t be easy, but Utah Valley is eager to get back on the court and continue to push themselves in the hunt for a WAC championship. I’ve got the Wolverines winning both games.