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Utes tame Tigers quickly, advance to NIT quarterfinals

SALT LAKE CITY — It didn’t take much time for the Utah Utes to tame the LSU Tigers. They overpowered them early and often en route to a 95-71 victory in the second round of the NIT Monday night in the Huntsman Center.

“We seemed to be ready. We got the ball moving. We played hard. We got out in transition and ran,” said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak. “Their team’s a little bit beat up, so they’re not as deep as they normally are, and I think we always try to take advantage of some of the elevation opportunities.”

Contributions were plentiful as the Utes (21-11) advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time since 1992. They’ll head to Saint Mary’s for the next round on Wednesday. The two teams played in a closed scrimmage in Salt Lake City prior to the start of the season.

Krystkowiak said it would make things “kind of interesting” to turn things around and play again on the opposite court.

“It would complete the season,” he said.

The Gaels, who defeated Washington 85-81 late Monday, have Krystkowiak’s respect. He said they could easily be a Sweet 16 team if they were in the NCAA Tournament.

“They’ve got a lot of pieces and a lot of veteran players and are a well-coached team,” Krystkowiak noted.

Utah advanced to the meeting in impressive fashion.

“I thought our guys were ready to go from the get-go and we made some real positive plays,” Krystkowiak said.

Sedrick Barefield finished with a team-high 17 points. Justin Bibbins added 16 and Gabe Bealer finished with 13. Tyler Rawson and David Collette contributed 12 apiece.

All said, 12 players saw action for Utah — 10 scored and nine grabbed rebounds.

“I thought we got some good leadership and the guys truly looked like they enjoyed playing tonight,” said Krystkowiak, who added that it was “super positive.”

The Utes never trailed while jumping out to a 30-9 lead late in the first quarter. Barefield and Bibbins powered the outburst with eight points apiece.

Utah’s advantage swelled to 45-18 with 4:08 to go in the second quarter. The Utes were up 47-30 at halftime. They shot 63 percent (17 of 27) from the field over the first 20 minutes and outrebounded the Tigers 19-7. Collette, Rawson, Donnie Tillman and Jayce Johnson paced the latter with four boards each.

“We just wanted to come out with energy tonight,” said Barefield, who noted it was the biggest thing Krystkowiak talked about. “So I think we did a good job of that and we just have to work on maintaining that energy for 40 minutes.”

LSU scored the first basket of the third quarter to cut the deficit to 15 points. However, it proved to be as close as the Tigers would get the rest of the way. The Utes led 72-51 at the end of three quarters and pulled in front by a game-high 30 in the fourth.

“Overall I thought we played 34 minutes of really good basketball,” Krystkowiak said. “You can’t expect perfection but it is a challenge. I thought our bench came in and gave us a nice spurt and then we were able to get up and down the road.”

EXTRA STUFF: The attendance was 5,528 . . . The Utes are 3-0 against the SEC this season with wins over Missouri, Mississippi and LSU . . . Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell attended the game . . . Tremont Waters had 19 points to lead the Tigers.