The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) men’s basketball team learned on Tuesday that Coach Lew Hill, who passed away tragically on Feb. 7 at the age of 55, is the unanimous choice for Don Haskins Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Coach of the Year.
Before his passing, Hill coached the Vaqueros to an 8-4 record, including a 2-0 mark in WAC play. The Vaqueros won their WAC opener over Dixie State by 33 points, the largest margin of victory in a conference game in program history. After sweeping Dixie State to improve to 8-3, Coach Hill had his team off to their best start since 2001-02.
The Vaqueros went 6-4 in non-conference play, including their largest-ever margin of victory over UTSA, 81-64 on Nov. 28, and a sweep of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the South Texas Showdown, presented by Navy Army Community Credit Union.
After Coach Hill’s final game on Feb. 6, UTRGV ranked third in the NCAA and first in the WAC in three-point percentage defense (25.7%), third in the NCAA and first in the WAC in offensive rebounds per game (14.42), fifth in the NCAA and first in the WAC in turnovers forced per game (18.33), eighth in the NCAA in first in the WAC in total rebounding (41.25), 14th in the NCAA and first in the WAC in steals per game (9.1), 19th in the NCAA and second in the WAC in turnover margin (3.9), and 26th in the NCAA and second in the WAC in field goal percentage defense (39.7%).
UTRGV has carried on Coach Hill’s legacy, ranking fourth in the NCAA and first in the WAC in turnovers forced per game (18.78), fourth in the NCAA and first in the WAC in offensive rebounds per game (13.83), sixth in the NCAA and first in the WAC in steals per game (9.2), ninth in the NCAA and first in the WAC in three-point percentage defense (28.4%), 15th in the NCAA and second in the WAC in turnover margin (3.8), 18th in the NCAA and first in the WAC in total rebounding (39.94), and 25th in the NCAA and second in the WAC in field goal percentage defense (40.1%).
In UTRGV’s first game after Coach Hill’s passing, the team grabbed a program-record 27 steals and scored 48 points off of a season-high 47 turnovers in a 116-51 victory over Dallas Christian. The Vaqueros scored 64 points in the second half and 52 points in the first half to continue a proud tradition of 50-point halves started under Coach Hill, as the Vaqueros recorded 16 halves of at least 50 points during his four and a half-year tenure, including two this year. The Vaqueros only had nine halves of 50 or more points during the eight years prior to Coach Hill’s arrival.
This is Hill’s third honor of the week, as he has also been named a finalist for CollegeInsider.com’s Ben Jobe Award, presented annually to the top minority coach in NCAA Division I men’s basketball, and the Skip Prosser Man of the Year Award, giving annually to those who not only achieve success on the basketball court but who display moral integrity off the floor as well.
“It’s special,” interim head coach Jai Steadman said. “All the things he did for this university… how much he cared about the WAC… he wanted to represent both well on and off the court. He brought this program to being ranked nationally in defense. I’m so proud of what he did, and we will continue to do what he did and try to win this WAC Championship. I’m so happy to see him honored this way.”