For the first time since January 16, UTRGV returns to conference play. A lot has happened for the Vaqueros since that Saturday in mid-January. Cancellations, ice storms, and the sombering passing of head coach Lew Hill. It hasn’t been an easy stretch to say the least. It’s a tough returning match up for the Vaqueros as they travel to the Beehive state to take on Utah Valley.
Utah Valley is coming off a trip to El Paso where they split a weekend series with New Mexico State. The Wolverines took care of business on Friday night. However, UVU looked sluggish just 24 hours later as New Mexico State returned the favor.
This series has major implications for the WAC tournament taking place in Las Vegas in two weeks. As it stands, UTRGV is atop the standings with a record of 2-0. Being undefeated and holding a win rate of 100 percent will do that. I know it’s cheesy, but playing in a year with Covid-19 and a global pandemic, you have to play it how it is. UTRGV’s only two conference wins came in the only series they’ve played in against Dixie State.
Utah Valley is currently in third place at 6-3. The Wolverines are in a strong position to get potentially get the 2-seed. If the Wolverines can win four straight, the potential to be regular season champs is in the mix, as well.
California Baptist is behind the Wolverines in fourth with at 5-5. Utah Valley has four games left, including these upcoming two games against UTRGV. California Baptist only has two games left as they host Seattle next weekend.
It’s important for UTRGV to win as much as they can. It will help bolster their seed for WAC Vegas. Utah Valley needs to take care of business in preparation of the WAC tournament. It’s a big series going down this weekend in Orem. Here’s everything you need to keep an eye on.
Who Steps Up for the Vaqueros?
It’s been a rough stretch for the Vaqueros. However, things just got even more difficult. The Vaqueros leading scorer and WAC Player of the Year candidate Sean Rhea entered the transfer portal on Thursday.
Texas–Rio Grande Valley F Sean Rhea (RS JR) has entered the transfer portal. https://t.co/x02VDaEpYm
— Verbal Commits (@VerbalCommits) February 25, 2021
This is a brutal loss for UTRGV. Rhea did a bit of everything for the Vaqueros. Interim head coach Jai Steadman will have his hands full for the remainder of the season. It’s not the end of the world though, as the Vaqueros can lean on the backcourt trio of Javon Levi, Quinton Johnson II, and LaQuan Butler. Levi is the two-time WAC Defensive Player of the Year. Winning that award twice is no easy feat. It’s also not going to be easy stepping up in a difficult time, but Levi is capable. This program needs it, and possibly now more than ever.
Rhea’s departure means that UTRGV only has one true big man in Jeff Otchere. Can Otchere play 30-35 minutes? Will Otchere stay out of foul trouble with his aggressiveness around the rim? A lot will be expected of the Stony Brook transfer and former America East Defensive Player of the Year.
As much as the team needs Javon Levi to be a focal leader, they also need others to step up. The back-to-back game format has made it difficult for players to be consistent in the two games. Expect Javon Levi to have a big game on either Friday or Saturday, but who else will step up? Quinton Johnson II and LaQuan Butler will both need to make their presence felt this weekend. These two are capable of doing it, both average double figures in scoring.
The Vaqueros may be limping, but they’re like a wounded bear. You don’t want to mess with a wounded bear. UTRGV is going to come out swinging, and Utah Valley had better be ready.
Can Utah Valley find some consistency?
Aside from Utah Valley’s series opening sweep against California Baptist, the Wolverines have ‘tied’ each conference series since. Not only that, Utah Valley has won each game on Friday. However, the Wolverines have gone on and lost 24 hours later. This, of course, excludes Seattle where the Saturday game between these two was canceled.
The theme has been consistent, as well. Utah Valley looks great on Friday, but seems lackluster on Saturday. Just last weekend, Utah Valley guard Trey Woodbury had 15 points on Friday night, but only scored seven points in the following game. It should be made known that in each of the past three Saturday games, Utah Valley had opportunities to win late.
However, execution is lacking down the stretch. On Saturday, the Wolverines committed four turnovers on four straight possessions after tying the game at 60 with just over a minute to play at New Mexico State.
So, what gives? Utah Valley needs to find consistency. Plain and simple. The Wolverines control their destiny heading into the WAC tournament. It’s not a cakewalk either. After hosting UTRGV this weekend, Utah Valley will travel to Phoenix next weekend to take on Grand Canyon. At this point in the season, consistency is as important as ever.
Who wants it more?
I think this weekend is going to boil down to whoever wants it more. Both teams are talented, both can win, and both have great coaching staffs. Both teams are also needing wins this weekend. Utah Valley has the upper hand playing at home and with the high altitude. But this series is wide open.
UTRGV has been through a lot over the last month. And the Vaqueros will be playing with a chip on their shoulder for the late Lew Hill. Utah Valley needs two wins to separate themselves from California Baptist and to relieve pressure from the upcoming series against Grand Canyon.
It will be a battle inside the UCCU Center. Tip for both games is at 6 p.m. MT and can be seen on the WAC Digital Network.