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Utah basketball: Utes receive NIT Tournament invitation, open at Saint Marys

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After literally watching its NCAA Tournament bubble pop following two crushing back-to-back defeats to end the season the Utah Utes needed a place to begin another chapter of March Madness.

Officials from the NIT Tournament gave the Utes (21-11) that opportunity on Sunday, March 16 as it named Utah as one of its 32 teams.

Utah will play at Saint Marys of the West Coast Conference later this week to open tournament play. The Gaels (22-11) finished fourth overall in the WCC behind Gonzaga, BYU and San Francisco and were eliminated by Gonzaga 70-54 in the conference tournament semifinals.

Saint Marys is a traditional NCAA Tournament team led by Brad Waldow and Stephen Holt. Both average double figures in scoring, shoot the ball well from the field -- and Holt shoots 44 percent from three-point range.

The Utes are seeded fifth -- which came as a surprise to Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak. The school submitted paperwork to host a first-round game, however, the tournament selection committee elected otherwise.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed,” Krystkowiak said in an interview with the Deseret News on Sunday, March 16. “I’d love to have a chance to play again in the Huntsman in front of our crowd, but it’s like everything else — it’s just about moving on and getting prepared for the next opportunity.”

The Utes will have to do just that -- especially after getting thumped 71-39 by Arizona in the Pac-12 Basketball Tournament. That loss, along with a season-ending heart-breaker at Stanford officially popped Utah’s bubble for NCAA Tournament inclusion.

Now Utah gets a fresh start in the sleepy college town of Moraga, Calif, where its road to New York begins where it hasn’t been all that successful this year -- a long way from home.

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