Utes and Cougars Invited to NCAA Tourney

Utes and Cougars Invited to NCAA Tourney

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah and Brigham Young have won berths in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, but 22nd-ranked Utah State did not.

Utah received the 11th seed in the St. Louis regional on Sunday and will play No. 6 seed Boston College in Milwaukee, Wis., Friday.

The Utes (24-8) slipped into the tournament in dramatic fashion, beating UNLV 73-70 Saturday night on a 3-pointer by Nick Jacobson with 1.8 seconds left to capture the Mountain West tournament championship at Denver and pick up an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

"I think the kids did what we want them to do -- that is finish strong at the end of the season and play our best basketball," acting Utah coach Kerry Rupp said. "It was nice to see the kids kind of see that through and now we've got a new goal."

Jacobson said, "We played well in Denver. We played hard. We're going to build off what we did in Denver. At the same time it's a whole 'nother ball game."

Kentucky (26-4) is the No. 1 seed in Utah's bracket, and the top-seeded team overall in the tournament.

BYU (21-8) was named the 12th seed in the Phoenix regional, and is scheduled to play fifth-seeded Syracuse (21-7) Thursday in Denver.

Stanford is the No. 1 seed in that regional.

BYU coach Steve Cleveland said the Cougars played a strong nonconference schedule and that helped with their RPI rating.

"With how we played at the end of the year and our strength of schedule and RPI, we didn't back in, we earned our way in," he said.

The winner of the BYU-Syracuse game will advance to play the winner of No. 4 Maryland (19-11) vs. No. 13 UTEP (24-7) on Saturday.

BYU has an 0-4 record against Syracuse but the two teams have not met since 1969.

This will be BYU's 21st NCAA appearance and its third in the last four years.

Despite its best season in years, Utah State did not receive a tournament bid. The Aggies finished 25-3, and were ranked nationally in The Associated Press poll for the first time since 1970.

Utah State was knocked out of the Big West tournament in the semifinals, losing on a 3-pointer with 29.6 seconds left to Cal State Northridge. The Aggies were ranked No. 22 in the AP poll before the loss.

It was the first time Utah State missed the Big West tournament championship since 1999.

The Aggies sat stoically on Sunday in front of television cameras, watching the tournament selection show without hearing their team called despite posting the best winning percentage in school history.

"Whining is not going to accomplish a whole lot," USU coach Stew Morrill said. "You win 25 ball games and you go 17-1 in your league and everyone says, `No matter what, you're in.' Well, no matter what happened, were not in.

"It really sends a tough message to mid-majors out there. We were nationally ranked for six weeks, won 25 games and went 17-1 in our league and the bottom line is, that you need to win your tournament," he said.

USU will host Hawaii (19-11) in the National Invitation Tournament first round Wednesday night.,

"I can't predict how we will respond. Last time we were in this position we didn't respond very well. We were devastated and didn't play worth a dang in the NIT Tournament versus Montana State," Morrill said.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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