Despite NIT title game setback, Utah coach pleased

Despite losing the championship game to Penn State at the 2018 National Invitational Basketball Tournament Thursday at New York City’s Madison Square Garden in a nationally-televised contest on ESPN2, Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak was pleased.

Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak

After Ute junior guard Sedrick Barefield hit six 3s and scored 22 points for second-seeded Utah (23-12) in an 82-66 setback to Penn State, Krystkowiak said “you’re always kind of watching the NIT and maybe you think of it as the consolation prize or whatever. They have no idea how cool this was for us.”

Barefield finished the 2017-2018  season strong as he earned a spot on the NIT all-tournament team. In his last six games starting with the Pac-12 tournament, Barefield posted a 15.0 scoring norm while shooting 49.2 percent from the field (48.5 percent from the 3-point line) for the Utes.  He entered the post-season averaging 11.3 points a game while shooting 37.5 percent from the field.

Prior to the NIT finale, the Pac-12 Utes posted tournament wins over Cal Davis (69-59), LSU (95-71) and Saint Mary’s (67-58 in overtime) to reach the “final four” in New York where Utah scored a 69-64 win over Western Kentucky in the semi-finals Tuesday.

Utah, which will be competing in the 2018 Wooden Legacy during the Thanksgiving weekend in southern California, was making an appearance in the post-season for the fifth-straight season Krystkowiak.  Competing in the NIT for the 14th-time, Utah was playing in the event’s “final four” for the fourth-time in New York City after winning the 1947 title, placing second in 1974 and finishing third in 1992.

Overall, Utah is playing in the post-season for the 45th-time with a 1944 NCAA title to its credit after defeating Dartmouth 42-40 in overtime for the championship trophy on March 28. By splitting two games at Madison Square Garden this week, the Utes now have a 20-22 record for games played in New York City.

Joining Utah in the 2018 Wooden Legacy will be Fresno State (Mountain West), Grand Canyon (Western Athletic), Hawai’i (Big West) LaSalle (Atlantic 10), Miami (Atlantic Coast), Northwestern (Big Ten) and Seton Hall (Big East).

Grand Canyon, Miami and Seton Hall joined Utah as 2018 Wooden Legacy schools competing in the 2018 postseason. Miami (No. 6 seed in the South Region) and Seton Hall (No. 8 seed in the Midwest Region) earned bids to the 2018 NCAA Championships. Both Miami and Seton Hall will be playing for the third-straight season in the NCAAs.

Grand Canyon is coached by Dan Majerle, the three-time NBA All-Star and member of the USA Basketball Men’s Senior National team at both the 1988 Olympics and 1994 FIBA World Championship. The Antelopes, who earned a berth in the College Basketball Invitational Tournament, will be playing in the post-season for the fourth-time under Majerle with past appearances in the 2014, 2015 and 2016 Tournament.

Fresno State (21-11), Grand Canyon (22-12), Miami (22-10), Seton Hall (21-12) and Utah (23-12) won 20 or more games in 2017-2018. Overall, the eight schools in the 2018 Wooden Legacy combined for a 155-106 record (59.4%). Hawai’i posted a 17-13 record with Northwestern 15-17 and LaSalle (13-19).

The Wooden Legacy was formed in June 2013 when the John R. Wooden Classic was merged with the Anaheim Classic, which was an eight-school bracketed event played for six years (2007-2012) at the Anaheim Convention Center.

Past Anaheim Classic/Wooden Legacy winners were USC (2007), Wake Forest (2008), West Virginia (2009), UNLV (2010), Saint Louis (2011), Cal (2012), San Diego State (2013), Washington (2014), Michigan State (2015), UCLA (2016) and Washington State (2017).

Four of the eight schools that competed in the 2017 Wooden Legacy advanced to the 2018 postseason. Cal State Fullerton (Big West) and San Diego State (Mountain West) advanced to the 2018 NCAA Championships after winning their conference’s post-season tournaments. Harvard, which tied for the Ivy League regular-season title with Penn, and Saint Mary’s (West Coast) competed in the 2018 NIT.

The Wooden Legacy is one of several in-season bracketed college basketball tournaments owned and operated by ESPN Events, a division of ESPN.