Bleeding Red: Postseason looking good for Sweet 16 Runnin’ Utes (Red Rocks, too)

Utah’s teams are on a run
As playful as a young pup
Yes, just like the Jeffersons
The Utes are moving on up

COMMENTARY — The Red Rocks are back-to-back Pac-12 champs, and the Runnin’ Utes have waltzed their way into the Sweet 16 at the Big Dance. Because my mother raised a gentleman, let’s take a look at the ladies first.

Tory Wilson is carried off the floor by Coach Tom Farden. | Photo by Russ Isabella & Nathan Sweet, courtesy Utah Athletics.
Tory Wilson is carried off the floor by Coach Tom Farden. | Photo by Russ Isabella & Nathan Sweet, courtesy Utah Athletics.

While the Red Rocks got the win last Saturday night, and their second consecutive Pac-12 title, they also suffered a devastating loss. After opening the meet with a perfect 10.0 on the vault, senior co-captain Tory Wilson went down with a torn Achilles tendon during her floor exercise and what proved to be the last event of her career.

“I’m happy for our team and happy for our fans, but I am devastated for Tory,” said head coach Greg Marsden. What happened to Tory is “every gymnast’s nightmare,” continued Marsden, “But give the (other seniors) credit, they went out and performed as well as they possibly could under those circumstances.” Visibly shaken after watching their fallen teammate carried off of the floor, seniors Georgia Dabritz, Corrie Lothrop and Becky Tutka pulled it together, knowing they had no margin left for any more errors, and finished strong on the floor to clinch the title.

Utah’s senior class has been simply amazing. Corrie Lothrop was the Pac-12 Gymnast of the Year in 2012, Tory Wilson took home that award in 2014, and Georgia Dabritz secured it this year. Dabritz has now won every major Pac-12 gymnastics award in her career at Utah, including Freshman of the Year, Specialist of the Year, Pac-12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year and Gymnast of the Year. Additionally, Dabritz, Lothrop, Tutka and Wilson have each earned multiple All-American honors.

RR Pac 3
Red Rocks celebrate as Pac-12 Champions. | Photo by Russ Isabella & Nathan Sweet, courtesy Utah Athletics

While the Red Rocks will truly miss their talented seniors next year, the team cupboard is well stocked for years to come. But I am getting ahead of myself, as there is still plenty of gymnastics left before this season is over. This afternoon the Red Rocks will learn the details of their upcoming Regional competition, followed by what should be yet another appearance at the Super-Six Nationals and a strong run at yet another national title. Unfortunately, Utah will have to press on without Wilson, whose career was prematurely ended by her injury last Saturday night.

Meanwhile, up in Portland, the Runnin’ Utes also extended their season for another round of post-season play. In the NCAA’s second round, Utah took out Southland Conference champion Stephen F. Austin by a score of 57-50. Two nights later, the Runnin’ Utes upset fourth-seed Georgetown 75-64 to advance to the Sweet 16.

Delon Wright lays it in vs. Georgetown. | Photo by Kirby Lee—USA Today Sports, courtesy  Utah Athletics
Delon Wright lays it in vs. Georgetown. | Photo by Kirby Lee—USA Today Sports, courtesy Utah Athletics

While the win by the fifth-seeded Runnin’ Utes over the fourth-seeded Hoyas was technically an upset, apparently the only ones surprised by the outcome were the members of the selection committee that determined the seeds for the NCAA tournament. Before a single game was ever played, the stat geeks online at FiveThirtyEight had used a forecasting model to determine that Utah had a 62-percent chance of reaching the Sweet 16, and even the odds makers in Las Vegas liked the Runnin’ Utes over the Hoyas. FiveThirtyEight initially gave Utah a 27 percent chance of reaching the Elite 8, with such percentage reaching as high as 40 percent within the past few days as the computer modeling has been updated with tournament results to date.

Both games provided an opportunity for Utah to showcase its depth as nine players saw the court against the Lumberjacks, and 10 players were used in the win over the Hoyas. Notably, all 10 players were inserted within the first 10 minutes of the game against Georgetown (rather than the extra players seeing inconsequential time as benches are cleared when the outcome had been decided).

Even though the Runnin’ Utes are seeded in the South bracket of the NCAA tournament, they benefitted significantly from a friendly venue at the Moda Center in Portland last weekend with fellow Pac-12 mate Oregon as the host school. While most fans opted for a short flight, some were dedicated (or crazy) enough to drive (I left Salt Lake Wednesday night at 8 p.m., and, after a very brief stop in Boise, I drove into Portland just a few hours before Utah tipped off Thursday afternoon). Overall, the Runnin’ Utes had good support from their fans and even fans of Oregon and Arizona (which also played in Portland over the weekend) cheered on Utah for the good of the conference.

In contrast, Stephen F. Austin had to travel from Texas, and Georgetown had to go coast-to-coast from Washington, D.C. The numbers in the crowd were in direct proportion to the proximity of the venue to the schools playing, with in-arena crowd support for the Lumberjacks and the Hoyas being substantially less than those cheering on the Runnin’ Utes.

The bad news is that Utah did not necessarily play up to its full potential in either game last weekend. The good news is that the Runnin’ Utes still won both games with much improved second half performances, and can still play better than they did last weekend.

Utah will have to bring its A-game against Duke in Houston this Friday with a tip-off at approximately 7:45 p.m. MT on CBS (with the exact tip-off dictated by the end of the earlier games).

Brandon Taylor celebrates a made basket vs. the Hoyas. | Photo by Godofredo Vasquez — USA Today Sports, courtesy Utah Athletics
Brandon Taylor celebrates a made basket vs. the Hoyas. | Photo by Godofredo Vasquez — USA Today Sports, courtesy Utah Athletics

With none of the current players ever having previously played in the NCAA tournament, many of them are living a dream.

“I knew we were due at beginning of the season, I just didn’t know how the feeling would be,” explained Brandon Taylor after the win over Georgetown. “I saw it. We have the personnel, we put the work in during the summer, but I just didn’t imagine what the feeling would be like. To experience it now, I’m lost for words.”

Here’s hoping the moment does not prove to be too big for the Runnin’ Utes against Duke on Friday, and the Red Rocks can press on and compete for another national title in honor Tory Wilson.

Dwayne Vance is a columnist covering the Utah Utes. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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