Utah Advances to NIT Championship Game

With its 69-64 win Tuesday over Western Kentucky at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, 2018 Wooden Legacy participant Utah will meet Penn State for the 2018 National Invitational Basketball Tournament title Thursday in a nationally-televised contest on ESPN2.

Junior guard Sedrick Barefield scored 14 points for the second-seeded Utes (23-11) with junior reserve forward Donnie Tillman adding eight points and a game-high 10 rebounds. Fourth-seeded Penn State advanced with a 75-60 winner over Mississippi State in Tuesday’s second semi-final game.  After averaging 11.3 points and shooting 37.5 percent from the field prior to the NIT, Barefield has posted a 14.3 scoring norm while shooting 47.6 percent from the field in the last four games.

In seeking to become the 28th school to win multiple NIT titles since the start of the post-season tournament in 1938, Utah of the Pac-12 Conference has now won four-straight games with opening victories over Cal Davis (69-59), LSU (95-71) and Saint Mary’s (67-58 in overtime) to reach the “final four” in New York.

One of 17 schools to win both the NCAA and NIT titles, Utah and Thursday’s foe Penn State of the Big Ten will each be seeking their second NIT title as the two schools meet for the second-time. The first meeting between the two schools was in Madison Square Garden where Penn State posted an 80-69 Holiday Festival win over the Utes on December 28, 1971.  Penn State captured the 2009 NIT title by defeating Baylor 69-63 in the championship game at MSG.

Utah, which was competing in its 14th NIT, is making an appearance in the post-season for the fifth-straight season coach Larry Krystkowiak. Utah is playing in its fourth NIT “final four” after winning the 1947 titles, placing second in 1974 and 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. With their win Tuesday over Western Kentucky in the first meeting between the two schools, the Utes now have a 20-21 record for games played in New York City.

Other schools competing the 2018 Wooden Legacy are Grand Canyon (Western Athletic) Fresno State (Mountain West), Hawai’i (Big West) LaSalle (Atlantic 10), Miami (Atlantic Coast), Northwestern (Big Ten), Seton Hall (Big East) and Utah (Pac-12) in the 2018 Wooden Legacy field.

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 CollegeInsider.com Tournament.

Fresno State (21-11), Grand Canyon (22-12), Miami (22-10), Seton Hall (21-12) and Utah (23-11) won 20 or more games in 2017-2018. Overall, the eight schools in the 2018 Wooden Legacy combined for a 155-105 record (59.6%). 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. 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.