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Mar 23, 2024 9:40 pm

Iowa, Utah battle for spot in NIT quarterfinals

Branden Carlson

It isn’t the NCAA Tournament, but that didn’t take any satisfaction away from Utah or Iowa after they won their first NIT games earlier this week.

The Utes (20-14) earned their first 20-win season in five years with an 84-75 win over UC Irvine on Tuesday night. The Hawkeyes (19-14) were also happy to advance after defeating Kansas State 91-82 that same night.

The teams will meet Sunday night when No. 2 seed Utah hosts No. 3 Iowa in Salt Lake City.

Utah, playing in the postseason for the first time in seven seasons, earned its 20th victory in a season for the first time since 2017-18.

Utes coach Craig Smith is proud that his improving program reached that milestone.

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

Branden Carlson led Utah over the 24-win Anteaters with 21 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks.

Gabe Madsen hit three 3-pointers and finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and five assists, while Deivon Smith contributed 13 points, 10 assists and six rebounds.

Utah beat Iowa in their only meeting, 92-88, but that was 60 years ago at the Los Angeles Classic.

Payton Sandfort sparked Iowa over Kansas State with 30 points, including seven 3-pointers. He also hauled in 12 rebounds.

Ben Krikke made 9 of 15 shots for 24 points with 11 rebounds and three steals.

Sandfort helped push the Hawkeyes to a 50-39 halftime lead with 22 points before the break.

Sandfort is thrilled to keep playing with his teammates.

“Once you get here, you’ve gone through life with these guys for the last six months,” he said. “Everybody’s dealt with loss, we’ve dealt with everybody being critical of us, we’ve dealt with losses of loved ones. … We’ve always stuck together and that makes us special. Every opportunity we get we’re excited.

“You never know when your last game is going to happen. So every opportunity is a blessing.”

–Field Level Media

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