Utah basketball: Utes aim for deep run in NIT, starting with Boise State

First Published      Last Updated Mar 13 2017 10:33 pm

Utah basketball » Coach says more games “really beneficial” for his young team.

There will be no chartered flight whisking the Runnin' Utes away to an NBA arena buzzing with energy. Utah won't be a sleeper pick in any bracket pools, or be on the lips of national commentators this month.

It won't be the same — no one is denying that. But while Utah (20-11) is out of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years, the program is trying to embrace the opportunity it does have left, when it takes on Boise State at home in the opening round of the NIT.

"We'd love to be in the NCAA Tournament, but we're not," coach Larry Krystkowiak said Monday. "We're gonna try to make the most of it and continue to play. We've got a young enough team where this can be really beneficial to our program. We've got a goal to go to New York to make the final four, and that would be a great achievement for our team."

The consolation Utah will get is playing another game at the Huntsman Center, where the Utes are 14-3 this season. All three defeats were against ranked opponents.

Boise State finished third in the Mountain West this year, with a 19-11 overall record. Like the Utes, the Broncos were flushed in their first game of their conference tournament. And like the Utes, Krystkowiak said, Boise State has been competitive, if not always successful, against tougher competition: They recorded a home win over SMU earlier this season, and fought Oregon to the wire.

"They understand their roles, they defend, [they're] a high powered offensive team," Krystkowiak said. "We have our hands full."

For the Utes, the question may be one of motivation after missing their March goal to go to the Big Dance.

Utah didn't look quite ready for prime time last week in a 78-75 loss to Cal — which wouldn't have been so unsightly if the Utes hadn't blown the Bears out by 30 a week earlier. While players spoke of lacking energy in the locker room after the loss, Krystkowiak said he saw the team get down after missing some shots early in the second half.

Boise State coach Leon Rice isn't taking the Utes lightly. When talking to Boise-area media about the game, he called Utah a "NCAA Tournament-caliber team."

"I know they've gotten better throughout the year," he said. "They're always really, really hard to play, especially at home."

Still, Krystkowiak said he wasn't relying on any "magic" that comes with home court advantage to advance in the NIT. He knows that if a team doesn't come ready to play on a given night — which can happen to teams that miss out on the NCAA Tournament — they can quickly be bounced even by road teams.

Krystkowiak said he wasn't sure what his younger players picked up from their one-and-done experience in the Pac-12 tournament, but he hoped it gave them some added sense of urgency. He said he saw some disappointment on the faces of his players after the loss in Las Vegas, which told him his team was invested.

"The gravity of the situation is a little more intense to know that it's over if you lose," he said. "I know some of the guys weren't ready to lose that one. I know we're certainly not ready to lose this one. Hopefully we're ready to continue."


Twitter: @kylegoon



Boise State at Utah

Huntsman Center

Tipoff » Tuesday, 8 p.m.


Radio » ESPN 700 AM

Records » Boise State (19-11); Utah (20-11)

Series history » Utah leads 4-3

Last meeting » Dec. 3, 2013 @ BSU; Boise State 69, Utah 67

About the Broncos » Boise State is 3-4 as a program in the NIT, and beat the Utes in an NIT game in 1987. ... Junior forward Chandler Hutchinson leads the Broncos in scoring (16.9 ppg) and rebounding (7.9 rpg) and was first-team All-Mountain West. ... The Broncos are hunting for their fifth straight season of 20 wins or more.

About the Utes » Utah is 11-11 in the NIT in program history, having won it in 1947 in a 49-45 victory over Kentucky. ... The Utes are 3-3 in the postseason under Larry Krystkowiak. ... Junior Kyle Kuzma needs 55 points to become the 39th player in Utah history to score 1,000 or more points.