Bleeding Red: Looking closer at Saturday’s rivalry game

Volleyball was grand, but now they are done
Runnin’ Utes split, losing one, winning one
It’s not quite time for the Red Rocks to fly
Utah won Lou Groza but not Ray Guy

COMMENTARY – The Utah women’s volleyball team had a near miss against No. 2-ranked Texas last week. The Longhorns won the first set 25-19. The Utes then took the next two sets, 25-16 and 26-24. With a chance for Utah to put the match away in the fourth set, Texas squeaked through 25-21. The final set was tied at 10-10, with the teams trading points to 14-14, but the Longhorns took the final two points, the set and the match.

utesWhile coming up short in the regional semifinal match, this still marked the best performance by the volleyball team in school history. Adora Anae and Brianna Doehrmann each notched school records. Anae finished with 114 kills in NCAA Tournament matches, six more than the prior record of 108. Doehrmann had 30 digs in the final match, eclipsing the prior mark of 21.

The Utes lose three key performers in seniors Anae, Carly Trueman, and Tawnee Luafalemana. But Utah still looks to return a strong team again next year.

The Runnin’ Utes were Even Steven, dropping a road game to Butler, but picking up a win against Utah State in the inaugural Beehive Classic. Utah’s big men finally showed some spirit against the Aggies, with Tyler Rawson, David Collette, and Jayce Johnson accounting for 31 of the Runnin’ Utes 77 points. Most notably, Rawson and Collette outscored Utah State 14-2 and 22-5 to start the game.

Next up for Utah is a road game against BYU on Saturday. It has been interesting to watch the paths taken by these two programs since they both left the Mountain West Conference back in 2011.

The Runnin’ Utes came away victorious the last time these two teams played. File photo of BYU at Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, Dec. 2, 2015 | Photo courtesy BYU Photo

Neither the Runnin’ Utes nor the Cougars have managed to win a conference title in the last six years, although they have both been in the championship game twice. During that stretch, Utah has played in the NCAA Tournament twice, and the NIT twice, while BYU has played in the NCAA Tournament three times and the NIT thrice as well.

Over the last six years, the Runnin’ Utes have gone 122-87, and split their conference games at an even 60-60. The Cougars have gone 154-68 overall, and 81-37 in conference play.

In head-to-head matchups, Utah holds the edge at 3-2.

But what are the recent trends?

In the last three years, the Runnin’ Utes have won 73 games (40 in conference play), played in the NCAA Tournament twice, and played in the NIT once. The Cougars have also won 73 games (42 in conference play), played in the NCAA Tournament once, and played in the NIT twice.

The two teams appear to be dead even. But looks can be deceiving.

Utah plays in the Pac-12, and BYU plays in the WCC. The Pac-12 consistently sends multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament, and often has a team in the hunt for a national title. The WCC is usually lucky to sneak a second team into the NCAA Tournament.

The Runnin’ Utes made it to the Sweet 16 in 2015. The Cougars haven’t been in the Sweet 16 since 2011 (led by Jimmer Fredette).

Utah has also beaten BYU in their last three meetings. Admittedly, only one of those games had a double-digit margin of victory, and the last two games have been decided by eight and four points. But the fact remains that the Runnin’ Utes are 3-0 in their last three contests.

The last time Utah lost on the hardwood court to BYU was Dec. 8, 2012, in Provo. The two teams will meet again in the Marriott Center this Saturday with a late tip-off at 9 p.m. for a national audience on ESPN2.

This will be the first meeting between these schools since Larry Krystkowiak famously cancelled the series after the Cougars’ Nick Emery sucker-punched the Runnin’ Utes’ Brandon Taylor in the Huntsman Center on Dec. 2, 2015. Both players have moved on — Taylor graduated the year following the infamous incident, and Emery withdrew from school last month.

Both teams are also without their best big man, with both Utah’s Kyle Kuzma and BYU’s Eric Mika both declaring for the NBA draft early. Kuzma is seeing significant playing time with the L.A. Lakers, and Mika is playing in Italy.

While the football game may get the most attention in The Holy War, there will be plenty emotion in the arena on Saturday night for the basketball rivalry game. The Runnin’ Utes’ depth should give them the edge in what should be a very high-energy game.

Lou Groza winner Matt Gay | Photo courtesy Utah Athletics

Utah’s Matt Gay won the Lout Groza Award as the nation’s top kicker. Gay is the first Ute to win the award by leading the nation in most major kicking statistics. He also set school records in attempts (31) and field goals (27), and is the only kicker in school history to make five field goals of 50 yards or longer in a single season.

After winning three straight Ray Guy Awards for the nation’s best punter (two by Tom Hackett and one by Mitch Wishnowsky), Utah’s punter came up just short this year (but Wishnowsky will return next year and attempt to reclaim his title.

Here’s hoping Utah can make it four in a row over BYU on Saturday, and really make a statement as to which way this rivalry is heading.

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

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Twitter: @oldschoolag

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