The Pac-12 Tournament loss understandably took some time to shake off.
The Utes went into last week with hopes of cementing a resume that would put them into the NCAA Tournament and back on the national stage after having to settle for an NIT bid a season ago. Their hopes instead were dashed when Oregon’s Kenny Wooten pinned Sedrick Barfield’s final layup attempt to the backboard to eliminate the Utes in the quarterfinals.
Utah (19-11) turns its attention to making a postseason run in the NIT, extending the season for the seniors and perhaps making a cross-country trip to New York City for the tournament’s semifinal and final rounds. Utah first must get past Big West regular-season champion UC Davis at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Jon M. Huntsman Center.
“That one was hard,” Utes senior forward David Collette said about the loss to Oregon. “For me, I was still kind of wallowing around Sunday morning. Finally as Sunday afternoon came around, I was here for practice and stuff and started feeling a little better and was excited for this tournament.”
The Aggies (22-10) won six consecutive games before losing to Cal State Fullerton in the second round of the Big West Tournament semifinals March 9.
Similar to the Utes, they have their own diminutive point guard who serves as a major catalyst for their team. Junior TJ Shorts II, who is listed as 5 foot 9, earned Big West player of the year honors this season.
“I’ve heard about him,” Utes senior point guard Justin Bibbins said about Shorts. “I heard he’s a great player, so I talked to a couple of my old teammates. It’s a different task. I haven’t played a point guard my size this year, so it will be a different challenge.”
Bibbins, who is listed as 5-8, spent his first three collegiate seasons playing in the Big West at Long Beach State. He earned first-team all-conference accolades in his one season in the Pac-12. He certainly knows the caliber of player in the Big West should not be overlooked.
“Since I played at Long Beach, I know a couple guys that were there when I was there,” Bibbins said. “I know they’re good players. That’s just our theme of the week. You just can’t take them lightly. It doesn’t matter what conference you’re in. You’ve just got to come out and play.”
Collette said his sprained ankle, which put his participation in the Pac-12 Tournament in jeopardy, has caused some “struggles” since he played on it in last week’s tournament game. However, he said he plans to play Wednesday. He also pointed out he liked the idea of his final memory of playing in the Huntsman Center being something other than being helped off the court and returning for the Senior Day ceremony on crutches.
Utes coach Larry Krysktowiak claimed this year’s team has a different feel than last season when the Utes lost in the first round of the NIT to Boise State after the disappointment of missing out on the NCAA Tournament.
“Our team doesn’t want the season to end, and I’m not sure I could say that about last year, to be honest,” Krystkowiak said. “It’s not like we threw the game and let Boise beat us, but we weren’t having a lot of fun and enjoying each other’s company as that thing wound down last year. This is a different squad with a group of high-character guys. We’re all still very much engaged and loving coaching them. We’re going to try to maximize the opportunity.”
CALIFORNIA DAVIS AT UTAH
Tipoff • 7 p.m. Wednesday
TV • ESPN3 (streaming)
Radio • 700 AM
Records • UC Davis 22-10; Utah 19-11
Series history • Utah leads 2-0
About the Aggies • Junior guard TJ Shorts II earned the Big West’s player of the year honors as well as newcomer of the year. The 5-foot-9 junior college transfer has averaged 15 points and 4.4 assists per game while also shooting 53 percent from the field (36 percent on 3-pointers). … Senior forward Chima Moneke, last season’s conference player of the year, led the team in scoring (18.4 ppg), rebounding (9.6 per game) and blocked shots before being suspended in early February. … UC Davis coach Jim Les won Big West coach of the year honors, and no team in the conference earned more all-conference honors than UC Davis.
About the Utes • The National Association of Basketball Coaches named Utes point guard Justin Bibbins to its All-District Second Team on Tuesday. He joined Kyle Kuzma (2017), Jakob Poeltl (2016) and Delon Wright (2015, 2014) as Utes to have earned that distinction in the past five seasons. Bibbins leads the Utes in scoring (14.6 ppg), 3-point shooting (45 percent), assists (4.8 per game) and steals (1.3 per game). … Senior forward David Collette scored 16 points in the team’s Pac-12 Tournament loss to Oregon despite playing just 19 minutes. … The Utes are 11-12 all-time in NIT games. They won the NIT in 1947 and reached the championship game in 1974.