NEW YORK (AP) — Western Kentucky coach Rick Stansbury says getting his players excited for the NIT Tournament was a sales job. His pitch: Playing a semifinal at Madison Square Garden is better than losing in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
NEW YORK (AP) — Western Kentucky coach Rick Stansbury says getting his players excited for the NIT Tournament was a sales job.
His pitch: Playing a semifinal at Madison Square Garden is better than losing in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
"Winning three games and getting here is much better than playing one and getting beat," Stansbury said Monday.
Stansbury said that opinion is based on experience but that his Hilltoppers staff "had to sell our team on this journey."
"It was easy for me because I understood the value of it and how special it can be, winning here and getting to New York," he said.
Western Kentucky plays Utah in the NIT semifinals on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. The victor will play for the NIT title Thursday night against the winner of the other semifinal between Penn State and Mississippi State.
"They all beat NCAA teams," Stansbury said when asked if there was a common denominator between the four teams. "It's a fine line when you get up here."
All four teams rebounded from losses in their conference tournaments with three NIT wins to get this far. Western Kentucky has averaged 83.3 points during its run, the most among the remaining teams.
"The teams that made it to the Final Four of the NIT didn't make it here by accident," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak told reporters at a news conference with all four coaches.
"We're awfully excited to be part of this tournament," Krystkowiak said. "This is tremendous for our team."
Utah (22-11) lost to Oregon in its first game of the Pac-12 Tournament, but beat often-ranked Saint Mary's in overtime to reach the NIT semifinals. Western Kentucky (27-10) lost its Conference USA championship game 67-66 to Marshall, a team that went on to upset Wichita State in the first round of the NCAAs.
Penn State (24-13) had a middling year in the Big Ten, but beat Ohio State twice in the regular season and again in the Big Ten Tournament before losing to Purdue.
Mississippi State (25-11) beat Nebraska, Baylor and Louisville in its NIT run and appears to be on the rise in the Southeastern Conference under coach Ben Howland, who reached the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament three times when he coached UCLA.
"We've come a long way," Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said of his team's growth this season. "We're a much better team in every way."
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