Surging Utah takes on No. 1 seed Indiana State in NIT semis

Utah’s bumpy finish to the postseason feels like a distant memory at this point.

The resurgent Utes find themselves in the NIT Final Four in Indianapolis, where they will battle Indiana State (and likely a large contingent of Sycamore fans) in Tuesday’s first semifinal.

Utah (22-14) closed its regular season with eight losses in its final 12 games, followed by a defeat to Colorado in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals. Still, the Utes earned an NIT bid as a No. 2 seed and they’ve certainly made the most of their opportunity.

The Utes opened NIT action by defeating UC Irvine and Iowa by nine points apiece before toppling VCU by 20 points in the quarterfinals. Gabe Madsen made six 3-pointers en route to 18 points, while Branden Carlson chipped in 17 points.

“That’s a great win for the Runnin’ Utes,” coach Craig Smith said. “I’m so happy, so proud of our team. Just the way we competed (Wednesday), it was just tremendous in so many facets.”

Deivon Smith continued his impressive season for Utah, registering his fifth triple-double of the campaign to set a new record for most triple-doubles in a single season by a Pac-12 player.

“Honestly, before the four games, (the record) didn’t mean anything,” he said. “But (Wednesday), I really wanted to break it, especially at home. I really wanted it.”

Smith might be primed for another big day against the top-seeded Sycamores (31-6), who gave up 92 points to SMU in their NIT opener. Then, after a tighter defensive effort in a win over Minnesota, Indiana State yielded 81 points in a four-point win over Cincinnati in the quarterfinals.

Robbie Avila recorded 22 points in that victory, including a big 3-pointer with about a minute to play. Jayson Kent went 5-of-5 from the field and finished with 16 points and seven boards.

“Not a lot of teams have the opportunity to continue playing in March,” Kent said. “We were just driven even more because we want to continue to play with each other, continue to practice with each other, continue to hang around with each other.”

Indiana State, which is located less than 100 miles away from Hinkle Fieldhouse, has never faced Utah in school history. The winner will face either Seton Hall or Georgia in Thursday’s NIT title game.