Utah Valley (7-8) at Chattanooga (4-8)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, December 29, 7 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: McKenzie Arena (11,218) -- Chattanooga, Tennessee. Television: None. Home Record: Utah Valley 3-2, Chattanooga 3-6. Away Record: Utah Valley 2-5, Chattanooga 1-2. Neutral Record: Utah Valley 2-1, Chattanooga 0-0. Conference Record: Utah Valley 0-0, Chattanooga 0-2. Series Record: Chattanooga leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: For the second consecutive season, the Utah Valley Wolverines and the Chattanooga Mocs will square off in the Dr. Pepper Classic championship game, as the two teams meet at McKenzie Arena on Saturday night.
Utah Valley has been nearly even this season (7-8), which includes alternating wins and losses over the past eight contests. The Wolverines opened the tournament on Friday night with an 84-77 victory over Austin Peay, their first win in regulation since defeating Eastern Washington, 86-83, on Nov. 20 in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Santa Clara.
Chattanooga, the tournament's host team, advanced to the championship game by defeating High Point, 68-61, in Friday night's opening round. It was the Mocs' second straight win, but they have not been very consistent on the season, as they had lost eight of their previous nine and currently sit with a lackluster 4-8 record.
These two teams met for the very first time last season in the title tilt of this event, with Chattanooga coming away with a 74-59 victory.
The Wolverines were lifted to victory on Friday night thanks to a historic performance from Nick Thompson. The senior forward finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds, and a school-record 12 assists, giving him the first-ever triple- double in school history. Thompson's outing was just one of the many strong showings for Utah Valley, which shot a lofty 61.1 percent from the floor. Ben Aird made good on 12-of-16 shots from the field for a career-high 26 points, Holton Hunsaker drained 5-of-9 from 3-point range for 21 points, and Alfonzo Hubbard finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and five assists. On the season, the Wolverines shoot better than 45 percent from the field for 67.2 ppg, and they get a balanced effort from their starting five on a nightly basis. Aird leads the way with 13.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg and 1.6 bpg while shooting greater than 57 percent from the floor. Thompson regularly stuffs the stat sheet (10.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 4.5 apg) and Hunsaker (11.1 ppg) and Hubbard (10.9 ppg) are also consistent contributors.
In what was a back-and-forth affair on Friday night, Chattanooga took control in the final five minutes and held on for the seven-point win over High Point. Despite losing the turnover (18-13) and rebounding battles (45-32), and shooting a dreadful 2-of-21 from 3-point range, the Mocs prevailed by putting together a solid night from the free throw line (20-of-28). Ronrico White tallied 21 points, six rebounds and four assists in the triumph, Z. Mason added 15 points and nine boards, and Gee McGhee scored 12 points. Typically, Chattanooga has struggled to put points on the board, shooting 40.5 percent from the field for just 66.7 ppg. Mason brings a steady presence to the frontcourt, shooting nearly 49 percent from the field for 12.3 ppg while adding a team-best 7.3 rpg. McGhee hasn't shot well from the field (.355), but still scores in double digits (10.2 ppg), while White (9.8 ppg) and Drasen Zlovaric (9.1 ppg) are also regular contributors.
Chattanooga will have the hometown faithful on its side, but that hasn't been a great advantage for the squad this season as it has lost twice as many games as it has won at McKenzie Arena. Utah Valley has proven to be the more balanced and disciplined team this year, meaning it should be able to overcome its status as the visitors to capture the tournament crown.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Utah Valley 74, Chattanooga 71
12/29 10:38:03 ET