Good Performances Elevated Utah Basketball In First NIT Game

Mar 20, 2024, 1:41 AM

SALT LAKE CITY – The Runnin’ Utes lived to play another day in the NIT after beating UC Irvine in the first round with a lot of good performances.

Now Utah will look to host Iowa in the second round of the NIT either Saturday, March 23 or Sunday, March 24.

Before the Utes get too deep into scouting for the Hawkeyes however, head coach Craig Smith took a moment to relish a now 20-win season and the effort his team is putting forth to play as much basketball together as possible.


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Craig Smith Takes In First 20-Win Season

Taking on the Runnin’ Utes was never going to be an easy task for Smith. The first two years at the helm proved it with an 11-20 record his first season and a 17-15 record the following year.

The 2023-24 Utah basketball team now sits at 2014 and are playing in the postseason for the first time since 2017.

Sure, the team has had its ups and downs and missed out on an opportunity to go to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016, but Smith and the Utes are improving and heading in the right direction.

“We’ve only had three or four guys on our team who have been a part of 20 wins at the Division I level,” Smith revealed. “It’s pretty cool. It’s hard to do. It’s not easy to do. To be able to do that- we are excited about that, and it was good for our guys to experience that. Now we want to get 21.”

Before the Utes hit that milestone, Smith says it wasn’t really ever a point of discussion for the team. Instead, the focus was on building a brotherhood and culture that everyone is bought in on. The 20 wins came after that.

“I hadn’t really talked to the team about that frankly at all this year,” Smith said. “We had a great team meeting on Monday and talked about a lot of different things. I said in the meeting yesterday- these guys’ friendships with one another, brotherhood with one another- they truly care about one another. It’s not just lip service when I talk about that. It’s a real thing. It’s pretty cool.”

Runnin’ Utes Inked Several Big Performances In NIT Win

Smith gave credit where it was due- to his players.

The Runnin’ Utes had four players reach double-digit scoring on the night in Branden Carlson (21), Gabe Madsen (16), Hunter Erickson (13), and Deivon Smith (13).

Two of those players recorded double doubles (Carlson with 10 rebounds and Smith with 10 assists).

One of those players (Carlson) matched a season high of five blocks.

Those are just the players with stats that jump off the paper too, not the ones doing good things that aren’t measurable.

“A lot of good performances,” Smith said. “23 assists ties a season high. Really proud of that- the way we played connected. I thought we played well for each other. 11 blocked shots which is a season high. We did a pretty good job of protecting the paint all in all. Of course, Deivon and Branden both with double doubles. I thought they played really good games. I thought Hunter Erickson was really good again tonight. He went three for three from the three. Five for eight from the field. I thought he was excellent defensively. He’s a bulldog out there. Then Gabe was very sound all the way around. Seven rebounds, five assists, zero turnovers with 15 points. A lot of good efforts from a lot of people.”

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on XInstagram, and Threads: @BodkinKSLsports

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Good Performances Elevated Utah Basketball In First NIT Game