The Utah basketball team is off to Tulsa today as it gets ready for its second-round game in the College Basketball Invitational Monday night (7 p.m. MDT) against the Golden Hurricane at the Reynolds Center.
After defeating UTEP last week, the 18-14 Utes are in the "Elite Eight" of the CBI, which might be a joke for fans from rival schools as well as national commentators and journalists. But the Utes say they aren't going to worry what other people think. They're just happy to still be playing games.
"We're in no position to look down our nose at anybody or any tournament," said Utah coach Jim Boylen. "We're thankful to be playing in this tournament people will criticize. A lot of times, anything new is criticized. It's just the way our society is. We're not going to worry about it."
Boylen said the game in El Paso, which drew 5,300 fans, was "classy" and that "the tournament organizers have treated us with respect" and given the Utes "everything we needed."
The Ute players say they're happy to still be playing rather than enjoying the sunny weather on spring break.
As Luka Drca said, "We have the whole day to have fun besides practice, right?"
Drca has been battling the flu, which limited his minutes to 19 last week against UTEP. He said he is "a lot better" and is looking forward to playing Monday and beyond.
"I am really, really happy to still be playing so late in the season," he said. "All the guys are the same because we all love basketball. We want to play as many games as we can for a whole month if we could."
Ute center Luke Nevill agrees.
"Even though we're not in the big-time tournament we're still playing, so that's big for us," said Luke Nevill. "We came to Utah to play basketball and we're excited we're still playing and have the chance to keep improving for next year."
By still playing, the Utes also have an advantage that football coaches who go to bowl games often talk about.
Practice. Yeah, we're talking about practice.
After a team's season is over, it is only allowed to practice for two hours a week. However, the Utes have been able to practice daily, even twice daily thanks to spring break, which for a young team like Utah's is invaluable.
"We cannot put a price on that," said Boylen. "It will be eight more practices and two more games (since the MWC tournament) if it ends Monday."
Of course if the Utes keep winning, they'll get even more practices and games.
If the Utes win Monday they have the chance to play one of six teams on Wednesday night.
According to the brackets set up before the tournament, the Utes would play the winner of the Bradley-Ohio game if they beat Tulsa. However, the CBI organizers have decided to seed the final four teams. If they do it according to proximity, the Utes may head down to Houston if the Cougars beat Valparaiso Monday. The other game is Old Dominion at Virginia.
Utah isn't likely to have a home game unless it reaches the finals, which will be a three-game series March 31, April 2 and April 4.UTE NOTES: The Utes were to take a charter flight provided by the CBI this afternoon for Monday's game ... Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik is a former assistant coach at Michigan State. When he left for Tulsa in 2005, Boylen took his place ... Tulsa's crowd of 5,365 for its first-round win over Miami of Ohio was the largest of the five first-round games in the CBI ... Utah is 4-1 all-time against Tulsa with its last win coming in the 1999 WAC Tournament 64-61 ... Nevill has moved into 19th place on the all-time Ute scoring list with 1,315 points, while Johnnie Bryant is in the 20th spot, just nine points behind Ken Gardner ... Three Utah players, Shaun Green, Lawrence Borha and Tyler Kepkay, are each averaging 7.7 points per game.