Utah Utes basketball: Team to face UTEP in CBI

Published: Monday, March 17 2008 12:46 a.m. MDT

Utah coach Jim Boylen was just leaving the Disney on Ice production at the EnergySolutions Arena Sunday night with his wife and 3-year-old daughter when he got the call that his team's season wasn't over yet.

Boylen had been informed his team had been invited to the new College Basketball Invitational, but he didn't know who his opponent was yet. Finally just before midnight, the brackets were announced with the Utes playing UTEP in El Paso on Wednesday night. After that, they would play the winner of Wednesday's Miami (Ohio) at Tulsa game the following Monday.

Long before word from the CBI came, Boylen had already put his team through a 90-minute practice Sunday night at the Huntsman Center and done two TV appearances. He said his team will practice again this morning.

"We're thankful to still be playing," said Boylen. "It's important for this team to be playing any opponent to compete and feel the pressure. Anytime you can play in an elimination tournament it's a stepping stone. We're excited about it."

It will be the Utes' first postseason tournament since going to the NCAA tournament in 2005 when Andrew Bogut led the Utes to the Sweet 16. Ironically, the Utes' first-round opponent that year was UTEP, which the Utes defeated 60-54. The last time the Utes played in a postseason event other than the NCAAs was in 2001 when the Utes played Memphis in the first round and lost 71-62 at the Huntsman Center.

The Utes have just one senior on the team who is in the regular rotation, guard Johnnie Bryant, whose career will end with Utah's next loss. That's why Boylen believes that the experience his young team gets in any more games will benefit the team in the future.

"Any postseason play on the road is good for us," he said.

"I think it's positive."

UTEP is 19-13 and finished in a tie for sixth in Conference USA. The Miners are led by junior guard Stefon Jackson, who averages 23.7 points and 5.6 rebounds. Two other guards, senior Marvin Kilgore and freshman Randy Culpepper average 12.9 and 12.8 points per game, respectively.

Among the first-round matchups are Richmond at Virginia, Rider at Old Dominion, Brown at Ohio, Cincinnati at Bradley, Houston at Nevada, Valparaiso at Washington.

Some schools such as Wake Forest, Texas Tech, Alabama, Missouri and New Mexico State declined invitations.

Several of the tournament games will be televised on the Fox College Sports Network, including four opening-round games, as well as the semifinals and finals. The time of the Utah-UTEP game was not known as of late Sunday night or whether it would be televised.

The CBI was created by the Gazelle Group, which produces exempt tournaments such as the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. The 16- team tournament will be played at campus sites beginning Tuesday night with second- and third-round games being played next week. Then a three-game series featuring the two finalists will be played the following week.


E-mail: sor@desnews.com

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