SALT LAKE CITY — For the Utah Utes, the sting of last week’s 68-66 loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 quarterfinals has subsided. They’re moving on to Wednesday’s National Invitation Tournament game against UC Davis in the Huntsman Center.
“Obviously we’re disappointed with how the season ended and (we) wanted to make it into the NCAA Tournament. But that didn’t happen,” said Utah senior David Collette. “So we’ll take the opportunity that we have here. We think we have a good chance to make a good run and go win this thing.”
Collette plans on playing despite being hobbled with an injured ankle. He scored 16 points on 8-of-9 shooting in the setback to the Ducks.
“I’ve been having some struggles after playing on it on Thursday,” Collette said. “But there’s nothing that is holding me back.”
Even so, Collette acknowledged it’s kind of a day-to-day situation. Utah’s motivation, though, is a constant.
“I think we’re all on board. We’ve all been talking and we don’t like how the season ended and we want to make up for that,” Collette added. “We are where we are. That’s the reality and why not take every opportunity you have. So we’re going to take this seriously and we’re going to play hard”
Collette made it clear he would like a trip to New York and Madison Square Garden where the NIT semifinals and championship are played.
“We’re trying to win it. That’s our goal,” said senior guard Justin Bibbins. “But we’ve just got to take it one game at a time, worry about Davis.”
The Aggies (22-10) went to the NCAA Tournament last year and claimed the Big West Conference regular-season title this season. They’re led by 5-foot-9, 160-pound junior T.J. Shorts II. The Big West Player of the Year averages 15 points per game and has racked up 141 assists and 63 steals.
“There’s no question that the kid can really play and get after it,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “We’re going to have our hands full with him.”
Krystkowiak also expressed respect for UC Davis coach Jim Les. Besides being Utah Jazz alums — Les in 1988-89 and Krystkowiak in 1992-93 — the coaches have more in common. They were teammates in the NABC All-American Game at the 1986 Final Four in Dallas. Les hit a shot at the buzzer to give the West a 94-92 win over the East.
Nowadays they cross paths on the recruiting trail. Les is someone that Krystkowiak seeks out. He enjoys catching up with him.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for what Jim Les does there and their players,” Krystkowiak said.
The Aggies, he noted, run an awful lot of pick-and-roll.
Utah, however, is determined to hold its ground. The Utes are determined to focus on the task at hand in their NIT opener and take advantage of the opportunity.
“We want to keep playing,” Krystkowiak said. “We’re just going to keep having fun. This is a goods group of guys that are working hard and I can tell by the last couple of days of practice that everybody’s committed.”
Things are different, he explained, than last March when Boise State knocked Utah out of the NIT in the first round.
“Our team doesn’t want the season to end. I’m not sure I could say that about last year, to be honest. It’s not like we threw the game and let Boise beat us,” Krystkowiak said. “But we weren’t having a whole lot of fun and enjoying each other’s company as that thing wound down last year. This is a different squad with a group of high character guys and we’re all still very much engaged and loving coaching them. We’re going to try to maximize the opportunity.”
Motivation isn’t expected to be a problem.
“We’re real motivated. You put a team in front of us (and) we try to win,” Bibbins said. “We’re a mature group of guys. So we know what’s at stake and still want to come every day and play hard.”
Should Utah prevail, the second-seeded Utes will host the Louisiana State-Louisiana winner on Monday.
National Invitational Tournament
UC Davis (22-10) at UTAH (19-11)
7 p.m. MDT, Huntsman Center
Radio: ESPN 700AM