Not a lot of people can say that they’ve played there, and it’s going to be a real memory that I’m going to have for the rest of my life. So I’m really looking forward to it. —Utah senior Tyler Rawson
SALT LAKE CITY — Simply put, the Utah Utes were in a “New York State of Mind” Saturday morning.
“It still feels a little surreal that we’re leaving for New York. It’ll get a little more real when we get on that plane later,” said senior Tyler Rawson. “But I know I’m excited. I know our team is excited. It’s something that we wanted since we knew were going to the NIT. So it’s nice to be able to knock a goal off our list.”
The Utes (22-11) play Western Kentucky (27-10) in the tournament semifinals Tuesday (5 p.m., ESPN) at Madison Square Garden. Rawson noted that playing in the famous arena is a big deal.
“Not a lot of people can say that they’ve played there, and it’s going to be a real memory that I’m going to have for the rest of my life,” he said. “So I’m really looking forward to it.”
So, too, is the rest of the squad.
“We’re excited. It’s a blessing,” said senior guard Justin Bibbins. “The whole team is ready. I’m happy we made it this far. No one thought we would be in this position and we’re here.”
Utah advanced to the NIT’s final four with wins over UC Davis, LSU and Saint Mary’s.
“Two games left, this is all business for us,” Bibbins said. “We’ve had our fun all year and we know what’s at stake and we’re ready for it.”
Seniors Gabe Bealer and Jake Connor were with the team last visited Madison Square Garden. It was Dec. 19, 2015, when the Utes defeated Duke 77-75 in overtime.
“There’s just something different when you step in there,” Connor said.
NEW DAD: Utah senior David Collette and his wife, McElle, became parents for the first time with the birth of a son Friday afternoon. Rowan William, who checked in at 8 pounds, 13 ounces and 20 ½ inches.
The new father acknowledged it’ll be tough to be away from the family for a few days.
“It’ll be something that we always remember,” he said. “It’s hard at the moment, but once we’re done we’ll look back on it and we’ll have some good memories.”
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak offered some advice.
“Just put on your seat belt,” he told Collette, reminding him that having kids is the greatest thing that can happen but it’s not easy. “So he’ll be ready getting his feet wet. We’re just all happy that the baby’s healthy and mama’s healthy and everything went as planned.”
The timing seems to be pretty good, Krystkowiak added — expressing hope that the team can go to New York and make the baby proud.
“They didn’t name it after me,” he continued. “I was kind of bummed that it wasn’t little Larry, but anyway.″
EXTRA STUFF: Utah won the NIT in 1944 and finished second in 1974. The Utes placed third n 1992 Utah and Western Kentucky have never played. The winner will meet either Mississippi State or Penn State in the finals Collette said the back injury that limited him to just the first half of Wednesday’s quarterfinal victory at Saint Mary’s is feeling a lot better now. “I’ve been on some meds and doing some exercises, so I’m ready to go.”
Madison Square Garden, New York
UTAH (22-11) vs. Western Kentucky (27-10)
Tuesday, 5 p.m.
Radio: ESPN 700AM