Tom Smart, Deseret News
LAS VEGAS — In the wake of Thursday’s 71-39 loss to fourth-ranked Arizona, there was light for the Utah Utes and more than just a glimmer of hope.
Despite the surprisingly lopsided ouster from the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals, the Utes are still expected to secure a National Invitation Tournament berth. While in the midst of their first winning season since 2008-09, they’ve even submitted a proposal to host a first-round game next Tuesday or Wednesday.
The NIT selection show is set for Sunday at 6:30 p.m. on ESPNU.
“It would mean a lot for this program. They haven’t been in a postseason tournament for a while,” said Utah forward Jordan Loveridge. “Even though it’s the NIT, I think it would be real good for the program. Hopefully we can get in the NIT and get some wins.”
At 21-11 overall, the Utes are poised to make a 12th appearance in the postseason NIT. They won the tournament in 1947, reached the finals in 1974 and made it to the final four in 1992. Other NIT appearances came in 1944, 1949, 1957, 1958, 1970, 1987, 1988 and 2001.
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak acknowledged that the next step for this year’s team will likely be the NIT. Once there, he’s hopeful the Utes can do what it takes to reach the semifinals of the 32-team tournament.
“I’d love to be able to go to Madison Square Garden and be in the final four there and get a taste of it,” Krystkowiak said. “That could be a building block for us.”
Against Arizona, the Utes were pretty much on the chopping block. There were numerous ugly stretches in the mauling by the Wildcats.
“If we were going to lose, we didn’t want to lose that way,” Loveridge said. “But there’s nothing we can really do now but move on and see what happens with the rest of our postseason. All we can do is move on to the next game.”
While noting that the Arizona loss was a little bit of a barometer of where the Utes need to go and a wake-up call, Krystkowiak added that it certainly wasn’t anything too extreme.
“We lost the game and got pounded,” he said earlier. “But we’re a resilient group, and it’s one game, and we chalk it up.”
There was plenty to note, however.
Utah shot just 25.5 percent against Arizona and missed 15 straight attempts during a 13-minute stretch over the first and second halves.
“They played tough defense on us. We got some good looks, but they weren’t dropping,” said Utah guard Delon Wright. “We couldn’t get a bucket. So I would say everything was real tough.”
Trailing 7-6, the Utes were held scoreless for eight minutes while the Wildcats put 15 straight points on the board to seize control of the game.
“We never regrouped,” Wright said.
Teammate Brandon Taylor credited Arizona for being very aggressive defensively. He also noted that the Wildcats were prepared.
“That’s a Final Four team, in my opinion, if they play with that kind of energy,” Krystkowiak said.
Utah’s 10 previous losses this season came by a combined total of 45 points. The only other double-digit setback was an 80-66 decision at UCLA on Feb. 15.
McGill inducted into Pac-12 Hall of Fame
LAS VEGAS — Former Utah star Billy “The Hill” McGill, who led the NCAA in scoring with 38.8 points per game in 1961-62, was inducted into the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday.
“It’s a huge honor for Billy,” said Utah athletics director Chris Hill. “You look at the other people that are in his category, and it’s a very, very impressive list. But he was an impressive player, so he belongs there.”
One player from each conference school is added to the list of honorees each year. The Utes’ previous inductees were Arnie Ferrin (2012) and Keith Van Horn (2013).
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