COLUMBUS, Ohio — Although this is Utah State head coach Craig Smith’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament as a head coach, he’s not totally unfamiliar with the Big Dance.
While he never quite made it during his four seasons as the head coach at South Dakota, Smith went to the NCAA Tournament twice as an assistant under Tim Miles: once at Colorado State, and once at Nebraska, where Miles is still the head coach.
“Our fifth year at Colorado State we were an 11-seed, and we played Murray State when they had Isaiah Canaan, who is an NBA player right now,” Smith recalled. “It was 23-23 at the half, then I think we lost by 20. That was a rough go.”
On March 15, 2012, Murray State won that game, 58-41. The Rams actually led that game, 24-23, at halftime, but then the Racers outscored them 35-17 the rest of the way to improve to 31-1.
Two years later, Miles and Smith returned to the Big Dance with the Cornhuskers. And while Nebraska lost to Baylor, 74-60, the game did provide Smith with a taste of what is to come Friday night in Columbus.
“At Nebraska, we were an 11 seed and played Baylor in San Antonio. I had about 14 minutes of head coaching experience in that game. And I won’t go any further than that, but you can probably figure out what happened.”1 comment on this story
“What happened” was Miles was ejected — rather controversially — after picking up two technical fouls, leaving Smith to guide the Huskers down the stretch. Down by as many as 21 points, Nebraska did trim the Bears’ lead down to single digits in the final three minutes.
Afterward, Cornhuskers forward Leslee Smith proved prophetic: “Coach Smith is a really good coach and could be a head coach at any program,” he declared. “We listened to him, did what he said and we started playing better.”
Aggies on the air
Washington (26-8) vs. Utah State (28-6)
- Nationwide Arena — Columbus, Ohio Friday, 4:50 p.m. (MT)
- TV: TNT
- Radio: Aggie Radio Network 1280 AM