It’s obvious that Utah’s 71-39 loss to Arizona on Thursday was disappointing to the Utes, their fans, the players and the coaching staff.
But the shock of being so unceremoniously escorted from the Pac-12 Tournament shouldn’t hinder the outlook of the program, or the strides that Utah’s made over the course of the season.
Those were the thoughts of coach Larry Krystkowiak in the aftermath of the Arizona game. The NCAA Tournament dream may be over, but the NIT will likely come calling on Sunday. And that means the program will play a meaningful postseason game for the first time since 2009.
"Our goal is to get to New York and play in Madison Square Garden," Krystkowiak said. "We know that we’re going to come back from this, I have no doubt about that. This has been a resilient group of kids this season, and we will continue to be a resilient group. We’re looking forward to continuing our season."
According to most projections, Utah can expect a high seed when the pairings are announced on ESPNU, maybe even a top seed. The Utes have entered a bid for a home game and that bid will probably be granted, so another matchup at the Huntsman Center on Tuesday or Wednesday seems likely.
That’s where it gets a little tricky for Utah. Renovations on the Huntsman Center begin Thursday, so a first round home game for the Utes will be the last of the season. That means if Utah wants to make a long run through the NIT, most of the heavy lifting will have to be done on the road. And as has been well established, the Utes haven’t exactly torn it up on the road this season.
"We’re excited," Utah sophomore Jordan Loveridge said. "We know what this means to the program and the fans. We really want to be successful. We want to make a run."
In order to do that, Krystkowiak will have to get things right mentally with his team. Against Arizona, the Utes looked stunned on seemingly every possession. And while Utah won’t see a team nearly that good again, preventing a hangover is essential. That’s why the Utes may practice as early as Sunday. They want to hit the court as soon as possible. And with a young team, the extra practice time serves as an advantage.
"We’re ready," guard Brandon Taylor said. "We’re excited to keep playing and we’re going to go hard and see how far we can take it."
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.