They’ve got a lot of pieces — big-time athletes inside and a couple of the best guards that we’ll have faced all year. —Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah did more than survive and advance with last week’s 69-59 win over UC Davis. The Utes (20-11) also put an end to a three-game National Invitation Tournament skid and moved into the second round for the first time since reaching Madison Square Garden in 1992.
Getting back to the latter requires two more steps. The next one is Monday night in the Huntsman Center against LSU.
“You definitely want to look at the big picture of things, but we’re taking it just one game at a time,” said freshman Donnie Tillman. “LSU is a talented team and the next challenge we’ve got to overcome.”
The Tigers (18-14) defeated Louisiana 84-76 in the first round. Senior forward Doup Reath led the way with 26 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks and two steals. Junior guard Brandon Sampson added 18 points.
“It’s been a program that I’ve respected and they’re part of a conference that’s highly respected,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “The games I’ve watched, they’re a great team. They’ve got a lot of pieces — big-time athletes inside and a couple of the best guards that we’ll have faced all year.”
Krystkowiak was ejected early from the UC Davis game, in part, because he didn’t see a whole lot of energy and made shots by the Utes. His message to the guys is basically that it’s OK to get beat, just as long as it isn’t self-inflicted.
“I think that’s the most important thing. If a team beats us, you know, shake their hands in the line and we’ll move on,” Krystkowiak said. “But let’s not have a season end because you didn’t do your best.”
Senior Tyler Rawson acknowledged that the Utes may have come out with some jitters or even a bit lackadaisical in their NIT opener.
“Now it’s just one step closer,” he said. “LSU’s a good team we’ve got on Monday. It’ll be another fun battle.”
The Tigers will be the third SEC team that Utah has faced this season. The Utes defeated Missouri up on the hill and Mississippi in Las Vegas.
"It’s always fun to have a big-time school come in here,” junior Parker Van Dyke said about LSU’s impending visit. “We’ve done pretty well against the SEC this year.”
Same goes for the NIT and advancement.
Van Dyke noted that openers are always challenging.
“A tournament atmosphere is definitely different than any other kind of game,” he said. “So it feels good to get that first one under our belt. Now we can just move forward with confidence knowing we can win in a tournament style of play.”
EXTRA STUFF: The winner will meet the victor of Monday’s Washington at Saint Mary’s game for a spot in the semifinals in New York City later this month. Utah leads the all-time series with LSU 3-1 and is 2-0 in games played in Salt Lake City. The Utes are 12-12 overall in NIT games. Freshman guard Tremont Waters averages a team-high 15.8 points for the Tigers.
NIT second round
LSU (18-14) at UTAH (20-11)
Monday, 7 p.m.
Radio: ESPN 700AM