Utah is currently the 12th winningest program in NCAA history. They began play in 1908, finishing with a record of 3–8, however, by 1916, they won their first national championship, winning the National AAU Tournament. The team would compete in the tournament two other times, in 1918 and 1919. But it wasn't until 1927 that Utah really began laying the foundation for what would become one of the winningest programs in college basketball.
That began with the hiring of Vadal Peterson, who would become the winningest coach in Utah basketball history. Peterson would guide Utah to 6 conference and state championships and reached the ultimate prize in 1944, when the Utes won the national championship. Oddly enough, Utah had turned down a bid to the NCAA Tournament because they wanted to play in the NIT. Back then, the NIT was a far more prestigious tournament and typically drew the big time college basketball programs. However, after being bounced in the first round by Kentucky, Utah was given a second chance to play in the NCAA Tournament after an accident injured the University of Arkansas team. The Utes accepted and went on to defeat Dartmouth 42–40. The legendary Arnie Ferrin was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player after scoring 28 points in the final two games. Three years later, Peterson would lead Utah to the more prestigious NIT championship, as they defeated, ironically enough, Kentucky 49–45. Peterson would retire from Utah with a 385–230 (.626) record and is the only coach in Utah history to have won a national championship.
After Peterson retired, Utah basketball was known as one of the strongest in the west. That tradition helped convince Kansas State head coach Jack Gardner to accept the job. Gardner had led the Wildcats to two Final Fours prior to accepting the job and during his 18 years at Utah, he built a legacy that many today feel is the strongest in Utah history.
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