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Utes' postseason in serious doubt

Women will get in, but will they host subregional?

Around the University of Utah, they're calling it "Black Friday."

It was the day two No. 1-seeded Ute basketball teams were defeated at the Mountain West Conference tournament in Las Vegas.

The Ute men were knocked off in a mild upset by New Mexico, 56-53, late Friday night, but the big shocker came earlier in the day when the 14th-ranked Ute women, who had lost just two games all year, blew a 20-point halftime lead and lost to BYU 57-50.

The two losses threw doubt into each of the team's postseason hopes.

The Ute women are certainly going to the NCAAs based on their 26-3 overall mark and high RPI ranking. But the men's team will almost certainly be relegated to the NIT and miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven years.

The doubt for the Utah women is whether they'll still be selected to host an NCAA subregional next weekend as one of the top 16 seeds in the tournament. Utah athletic director Chris Hill, who put a bid in to host the women's first and second rounds, still believes the Utes will get the chance to host games next Saturday and Monday.

"I still do," he said Saturday. "We won 15 straight games before Friday and our RPI is very good. In the long run, I don't think (Friday's loss) should put a damper on the whole thing."

As for the men, although Hill holds some faint hopes the men could still make the NCAAs, he is counting on an NIT berth instead.

"I would think our chances are excellent there because of our name and our record," said Hill, who has had some preliminary talks with NIT officials.

Hill also said the U. would be able to host both the NIT and the women's NCAA subregional the same week. He said as long as the women play the Saturday-Monday format, the men could host a game on Wednesday night at the Huntsman Center. The NCAA requires that the host school's facility be available two full days before the first games.

So the Ute men could host a game Wednesday and come back perhaps the following Tuesday for another game, meaning there could be four Ute games (for men and women) at the Huntsman Center in less than a week.

The women's NCAA brackets will be announced at 3 p.m. Sunday , and the men's NIT selections are usually announced later Sunday evening.

As poorly as the Ute women played in Friday's second half when they made just 2 of 17 shots and scored only 10 points, Ute coach Elaine Elliott did her best to shrug off the loss afterward.

"We are going to put this where it belongs, which is in perspective," she said. "We've lost one game in our last 15. I don't know why I need to be concerned what that bodes for us."

Men's acting coach Dick Hunsaker was frustrated by his team's lack of "toughness" something that plagued his squad all year. But he told his players in the locker room that their season isn't over and they'd be playing more games.

"There better not be any head-dropping by those kids," he said. "We've got to continue to grow and get better as a unit for a team that's going to be back (nest year). Whatever our fate is for the postseason, we've got to be excited to play."

Among the teams likely to join the Utes in the NIT are fellow Mountain West Conference school Wyoming and the loser of Saturday night's final between BYU and New Mexico.

Other likely candidates are Ute opponents from this year such as Pepperdine, Georgia and Memphis, WAC schools such as UTEP and TCU, UC Irvine from the Big West, Minnesota and Purdue from the Big Ten, Miami, West Virginia and Seton Hall from the Big East and Auburn, Mississippi State and South Carolina from the SEC. Interstingly there probably won't be any Pac-10 teams in the NIT, because the top five in the league are likely to be selected to the NCAA and the other five have losing records, making them ineligible.


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