Utes set to face St. Mary's in the NIT
When: Tuesday 9:00 MST
Where: McKeon Pavilion
The Utes fell short of the NCAA Tournament as expected, but were invited to the NIT Tournament on Sunday night. Based on how the Utes played this year and the crowds they got at the Huntsman Center, I expected the Utes to get a 2 or a 3 seed and host at least two games. Per usual, things didn't go as planned and Utah was given a 5 seed and are set to play St. Mary's who was given the 4 seed. Utah gets to play in the postseason tournament for the first time in years. An NIT run can be the springboard for future success for the Runnin' Utes. Though it is a consolation prize for not making the big dance, the Utes should take the NIT seriously and use it as an opportunity to gain momentum for next year.
Utah will face the St. Mary's Gael's who finished 22-11 (11-7) in the West Coast Conference. The Gael's faced 2-team's that the Utes faced and went 1-2 against them. St. Mary's went to Boise and beat the Broncos 82-74 while the Utes lost at Boise State 69-67. The Gael's faced the BYU Cougars twice in WCC play and lost 84-71 in Provo and lost 60-57 at home, while the Utes hammered the Cougars 81-64 at the Huntsman Center. St. Mary's finished 3-2 in their last 5 games with wins over Santa Clara, Portland and Pepperdine and lost to Gonzaga twice. At home, the Gael's went 7-3 at in WCC play with losses against Santa Clara, BYU and Gonzaga.
Players that the Utes will need to be aware of are Brad Waldow and Stephen Holt who carry the offensive load for the Gael's by averaging 15.8 and 14.9 points respectively. Kerry Carter, James Walker III and Beau Levesque also contribute in a big way by averaging 9 points apiece. As a team, St. Mary's shoots 45% from the field, dishes out 12 assists, gets 34 rebounds and turns the ball over 12 times. They have two real threats from beyond the arc in Stephen Holt and Kerry Carter who shoot 44% and 40% from outside. If I had to pick one player that can cut Utah's NIT run short, it is Brad Waldow who leads the Gael's in both scoring and rebounding.
The Utes can use this as practice time to refine their game individually and collectively and to get ready for what should be an NCAA Tournament team in 2015. Utah can also use this game as a way to get rid of the bad taste in their mouths left from the Arizona game. Instead of having that beat down be the last thing they remember from this season, they can get a nice road win against a quality St. Mary's team. The biggest hurdle the Utes will face next year is getting over their road woes. What better way than to get started on that with this game Tuesday night?
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