Bleeding Red: Utes thrive despite missing key pieces

Absent key pieces could they do the job?
And without their bright lights could they still shine?
No David Collette or Sabrina Schwab
Both the boys and girls did more than just fine

COMMENTARY – The Runnin’ Utes and Red Rocks had huge wins last week even though both squads were competing short-handed. The ladies got top billing last week, so this week the men get to go first.

Utah had a road trip to the Evergreen State, taking on Washington State last Wednesday and Washington on Saturday. However, the Runnin’ Utes were without the services of David Collette, who has started every game since he has been eligible to play for Utah. Collette missed the road trip as he was under the watchful eye of medical staff for concussion symptoms.

utesEven without Collette in the line-up, the Runnin’ Utes swept the Washington Schools, beating the Cougars by 41 points and beating the Huskies by 22 points.

The common denominator in both games was lights-out shooting, with Utah shooting 58 percent from the floor against Washington State and 60 percent against Washington. Of course, your shooting percentage is always better in the paint, and it was virtually a layup drill against the Huskies with the Runnin’ Utes racking up 60 points in the paint. Utah also hit from distance, going 8 for 17 from behind the arc against Washington State, and 7 for 12 against Washington.

Devon Daniels

Kyle Kuzma continues to be Mr. Consistent, as he averaged a double-double over the two games with 20.5 points and 13.0 rebounds. But Devon Daniels really came into his own on this road trip, scoring a career-high 24 points against the Huskies on 10-13 shooting, including 3-3 from behind the arc. Daniels was absolutely fearless driving to the rim and displayed a level of confidence and maturity beyond his years as a mere true freshman.

The Runnin’ Utes are now 5-2 in conference play, 14-5 overall, and all by themselves in fourth place. Not bad for a team the media picked to finish ninth in the conference (but let’s not forget the media also picked Colorado to finish dead last in the South in football).

At just a little over a third of the way through the conference schedule, we are already starting to see considerable separation among the teams.  At the top you have the big three of Oregon, Arizona, and UCLA. The next tier has Utah and California knocking on the door at 5-2 and 5-3, respectively. The rest of the conference has a losing record in conference play, and two teams (Colorado and Oregon State) have yet to win a single conference game (although one of them is destined to win their matchup in Boulder this Thursday).

The Runnin’ Utes host the Ducks on Thursday and the Beavers on Saturday. The Oregon game is pivotal and may be a big factor as to whether Utah gets invited to the Big Dance come March.

The soft non-conference schedule certainly helped the Runnin’ Utes learn how to play together and gain some confidence as they waited for David Collette and Sedrick Barefield to become eligible in late December. However, it hurt their strength of schedule (87), and in turn, their RPI (currently checking in at 57). It is very telling that even Stanford remains to be ahead of Utah with an RPI of 56 even though they are only 3-5 in Pac-12 play and 11-9 overall (due in large part to a 13th-ranked strength of schedule).

What the Runnin’ Utes need are some resume wins that will also boost their RPI. Utah won’t play Arizona or UCLA again unless they meet in the conference tournament. That leaves two key games against Oregon, with the first one coming at home this Thursday. I hope Utah fans appreciate the importance of Thursday’s game against the Ducks and get the Huntsman Center rocking similar to the recent UCLA game.

It is not inconceivable that the Runnin’ Utes could finish 14-4 in conference play by splitting games with Oregon and California and winning all other games against Oregon State, Washington State, Washington, Colorado, and Stanford (although 13-5 or even 12-6 may be more likely).

Speaking of possibilities, the Red Rocks should be moving up to No. 3 nationally when the updated rankings are released today, and are poised to compete for yet another national title.

Utah gymnastics suffered an even more devastating blow than men’s basketball last week as super sophomore (and last year’s Pac-12 Freshman of the Year) Sabrina Schwab was lost for the season after suffering a knee injury in practice and tearing her ACL.

So, what do you do when one of your brightest stars goes down with an injury? You shuffle the line-up, plug other gymnasts into her spot, and post your highest score of the season in a quad-meet (featuring three ranked teams).

Photo courtesy Utah Athletics

The loss of Schwab meant an opportunity for other gymnasts. One who made the most of her opportunity was freshman Kim Tessen, who put up a 9.90 on vault, a 9.85 on bars, and a 9.825 in her first collegiate floor routine. Fellow freshman Missy Reinstadler also had a chance to start and nailed a 9.85 on the beam and a 9.875 in her first collegiate floor routine as well.

Of course, MyKayla Skinner continues to be the cream of the crop, winning her third consecutive all-around title and winning 13 of 15 individual event titles so far this season.

The Red Rocks are crazy talented this year, and even without Schwab, they are going to make a lot of noise, not only in the Pac-12, but at nationals (and Schwab should be back next year, along with every other member of this year’s squad with the sole exception of senior Baely Rowe).

This week, Utah kicks off its Pac-12 schedule on the road against Washington on Saturday afternoon.

Oh yeah, just for good measure, Utah’s swimming and diving team crushed BYU last weekend as well. Not a bad way to cap off the week if you’re a Ute fan.

Here’s hoping the Runnin’ Utes take down the Ducks like the Robinson clan of Duck Dynasty fame, and the Red Rocks continue Utah’s domination of the state of Washington.

Bleeding Red is a sports column written by Dwayne Vance. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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