Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s five-year drought from national postseason play will come to an end Tuesday night at Saint Mary’s. The Utes (21-11) will travel to Moraga, Calif., to take on the Gaels (22-11) in the opening round of the NIT.
“It feels good. I’m going to jump into some film here and get after it,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “It’s something we’re excited about — extending our season and moving forward.”
Although the Utes submitted a proposal to host a first-round game at the Huntsman Center, the NIT selection committee opted to seed Saint Mary’s fourth and Utah fifth, giving the Gaels the home game.
Krystkowiak said he didn’t know what to expect and was just happy the Utes are in the tournament. He added that he didn’t know how the selection committee works and if planned renovations to the Huntsman Center, which are scheduled to begin Thursday, had anything to do with Utah not getting a higher seed and/or a first-round game at home.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed,” Krystkowiak said. “I’d love to have a chance to play again in the Huntsman in front of our crowd, but it’s like everything else — it’s just about moving on and getting prepared for the next opportunity.”
Ironically, the Utes practiced at Saint Mary’s during their California-Stanford road trip earlier this month. Krystkowiak also knows a little more about the Gaels.
“I’ve seen them play plenty in the past and have a pretty good understanding for what it is they do overall — the blueprint — but there’s nothing specific,” he said. “Right now we’re chopping up film and I’m going to jump into it this evening.”
On Sunday, the Utes watched film and returned to practice for the first time since Thursday’s 71-39 loss to Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas.
“Based on the energy level and the concentration everybody had, I feel as good about our guys as I have all year,” said Krystkowiak, who added that they’re getting ready for the next thing.
The 32-team NIT features three rounds at school sites and then a final four, April 1 and 3, at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Krystkowiak acknowledged that getting to the Big Apple would be nice. However, he noted that the Utes are still taking things “one step at a time.” Getting into a national postseason tournament for the first time since the 2009 NCAA tournament, he said, is a symbol that progress is being made.
“You’ve got to succeed in this it in order to learn from it,” Krystkowiak said. “We’ve got to be successful with this opportunity for it to really be valuable.”
In three seasons under Krystkowiak, Utah has gone from 6-25 to 15-18 to this season’s 21-11 mark. Doing well in the NIT, he explained, is not a multiple-win deal — at least not in the approach.
“It’s winning our next game. That would be successful and then you try to be successful in the next one. It’s not a deal where you start talking about a big number or a goal at the end,” Krystkowiak said. “That’s our goal, obviously, to be in it but we’re not going to be a failure if we don’t go to New York. I just don’t get into defining in terms of success. It’s important that we play well in our next game."
This will be Utah’s 12th appearance in the NIT. The Utes won the championship in 1947; reached the finals in 1974; and finished third in 1992. Other NIT appearances came in 1944, 1949, 1957, 1958, 1970, 1987, 1988 and 2001.
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