No. 2 Utah hosts VCU for spot in NIT semis

League: NCAA Basketball

Posted on: 26 Mar, 2024 at 07:18 AM

Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday marks the final men's basketball game of the season for Utah at home in Salt Lake City, and the Utes hope to book a flight to Indianapolis after that.

First the second-seeded Utes must get by Virginia Commonwealth in the NIT quarterfinals. The winner of this matchup moves on to the semifinals at the Hinkle Fieldhouse, on the campus of Butler, on April 2.

Utah (21-14) is coming off a 91-82 second-round win over Iowa on Sunday. Guard Deivon Smith notched his fourth triple-double of the season for Utah and Gabe Madsen scored a career-high 31 points in the win.

Smith had 19 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, and became just the second player in Pac-12 history with four triple-doubles in a single season, joining former Cal and NBA star Jason Kidd.

"It's a super blessing, especially the stuff I had to go through to be here," Smith said after the win over Iowa. "My teammates were allowing me to get those assists and rebounds."

Utah has a history in the NIT, having made the semifinals four times (1947, 1974, 1992, 2018) and the championship game three times, and winning the tournament in 1947.

The teams are playing each other for the very first time.

VCU's path to Salt Lake City and the quarterfinals has included wins at Villanova and South Florida, the latter a 70-65 win in the second round Sunday in Tampa, Fla. VCU (24-13) is making its seventh all-time NIT appearance and first since 2022. The Rams, who just missed out on the NCAA Tournament with a loss to Duquesne in the Atlantic 10 tournament championship game, are in the NIT quarterfinals for the first time since 1988.

Zeb Jackson's 14 points and 13 from Sean Bairstow led the Rams to the win over South Florida.

"Zeb made some shots early and got going," VCU head coach Ryan Odom said after the game. "He's been a great leader for us all year."

Offensive rebounding and free throws as the second half wore on made the difference for VCU against South Florida.

Max Shulga leads the Rams in scoring this season at 14.2 points per game.

"I'm definitely proud of our guys," Odom said. "You have to prove yourself every day, no matter what walk of life."

--Field Level Media