NEW YORK — It’s been a while, quite a while as a matter of fact, since the Utah Utes won the National Invitation Tournament.
It was 1947 when Vern Gardner and Arnie Ferrin each scored 15 points as Utah topped Kentucky 49-45 in the championship game at Madison Square Garden.
Since then, Utah has placed second in 1974 and third in 1992.
On Tuesday, the Utes will participate in their fourth NIT final four. They face Western Kentucky in the semifinals. The winner will take on Mississippi State or Penn State for the title on Thursday.
Utah senior David Collette has his sights set on winning the NIT.
“We’re coming home with a trophy,” he said before the team left Salt Lake City. “That’s our goal. So we’ll get two games out of this, then spend a week in New York and have some fun.”
The Utes, he continued, are going to “add another banner.” They won the NCAA title in 1944 and the AAU crown in 1916.
Although the NIT isn’t as prestigious as it was back in the day, there’s still a determination to finish on top. Utah’s path to New York featured wins over UC Davis (69-59), LSU (95-71) and a hard-fought overtime decision at Saint Mary’s (67-58).
“I think it says a lot about us,” said senior Tyler Rawson. “We got the hand we were dealt and we’re just trying to play it the best we can.”
After the Utes advanced to New York, Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak acknowledged that it's foolish not to be excited about the opportunity.
“Something like this doesn’t come around very often,” he said. “You get to go play in basketball mecca, a great city, just not many teams playing this time of year. So it’s fun, fun to be a part of.”
Utah (22-11) at Western Kentucky (27-10)
Madison Square Garden — New York
Tuesday, 5 p.m. MDT
Radio: ESPN 700AM