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Kragthorpe: BYU, Utah, USU exit Vegas; UVU remains

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BYU's Kyle Collinsworth (5) passes off the ball against Gonzaga's Drew Barham, left, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game for the West Coast Conference men's tournament title, March 11, 2014, in Las Vegas. Gonzaga won 75-64. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

By Kurt Kragthorpe

Tribune Columnist

First published Mar 14 2014 08:58AM
Updated Mar 15, 2014 05:14PM

Las Vegas • BYU, Utah and Utah State clearly should have stopped while they were ahead in Las Vegas.

The three basketball teams each played one too many games in their conference tournaments, losing a star player to injury Tuesday and enduring a dual debacle Thursday.

Here’s my assessment of where each team stands after its conference tournament competition, while Utah Valley University prepares for a semifinal meeting Friday with Idaho in the Western Athletic Conference tournament:

BYU • The knee injury that forward Kyle Collinsworth sustained in the second half of the Cougars’ loss to Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference championship game was unfortunate for multiple reasons, mainly the long rehabilitation process that Collinsworth faces in advance of next season.

His injury affects his teammates, in terms of how BYU is perceived by the NCAA Tournament committee. Judging by various projections, the Cougars remain in decent position for an at-large bid. They deserve to be rewarded for a 23-11 season as a No. 11 or 12 seed, even without Collinsworth. If that means another first-round game in Dayton, Ohio, that’s fine.

Utah • It was inevitable that powerful Arizona would reassert itself against Utah after five very competitive games over the past three seasons. But the Wildcats’ degree of dominance in a Pac-12 quarterfinal meeting was shocking, simply because the Utes had not allowed any team to overwhelm them all season.

Utah clearly caught Arizona at the wrong time, and the 71-39 outcome probably had more to do with the Wildcats than the Utes. The reality is Utah (21-11) has to live with that score until the 2014-15 conference schedule begins — although the current team can rebound next week, presumably in the NIT.

Having declared Utah’s season a success after a first-round win over Washington, I’ll maintain that position. The Utes have moved into the Pac-12’s crowded middle tier, and they’ll keep getting better. But obviously, I was anticipating a more respectable showing against Arizona.

Utah State • Too bad Utah and USU couldn’t have played one another Thursday, instead of being subjected to a combined 144-78 blowout in two arenas about a mile apart on Tropicana Avenue.

The convergence is amazing, how the Utes and Aggies came through in the last minute of their first-round games and then ran into two of the country’s top teams. To extend the comparison, Utah and USU had taken Arizona and San Diego State into overtime in the regular season, only to be steamrolled by them in Las Vegas.

USU lost 73-39 to the Aztecs, and coach Stew Morrill was dismissive about a postseason opportunity for his team (18-14) that tied for eighth in its first Mountain West season. Unlike last year, when the team was depleted, the Aggies shouldn’t turn down any invitation they get.

Going forward, USU’s level of recruiting will have to improve, if the Aggies expect to move into the top half of the conference. Dealing with SDSU and New Mexico is one thing, but USU shouldn’t be so far behind former WAC rivals Boise State and Nevada.

Utah Valley • The Wolverines played their best game of the season Thursday in beating Texas-Pan American 83-63 in the WAC quarterfinals. The regular-season champions likely will have a tough time Friday with No. 5 seed Idaho, which features former Utah guard Glen Dean. UVU beat the Vandals by a total of six points in two regular-season meetings.

No. 2 seed New Mexico State survived with a 70-68 win over Seattle late Thursday and will meet No. 6 Cal State Bakersfield in the other semifinal game.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt

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