Bleeding Red: Runnin’ Utes were cold, but Red Rocks are hot, hot, hot

Runnin’ Utes gave Cougs a reason to crow
Red Rocks are ready and raring to go
Seven days ‘til Christmas, eight ‘til the bowl
Eleven bowl wins has become the goal

COMMENTARY – If you were lucky, you forgot that the basketball series between Utah and BYU was renewed in Provo on Saturday night and you went to bed early. The lack of emotion, energy and hustle by the Runnin’ Utes was surprising. Utah certainly did not look like a team that was trying to justify its coach’s prior decision to cancel the rivalry game with BYU.

utesThree Runnin’ Utes who are 6-foot-10 or taller saw the court Saturday night. But the Cougars’ 6-8 Yoeli Childs was hands down the best big man in the game (despite being limited in the second half with an injury). BYU’s Elijah Bryant played the game of his life, spurring Cougar fans to wonder “Nick who?”

Photo by BYU Photo

The respective shooting percentages tell all that needs to be told. Utah shot 46.4 percent from the field, 22.7 percent from the arc, and 61.5 percent from the charity stripe. In contrast, BYU shot 51.9, 50, and 76.5, respectively.

While the Utes own the Cougars in football (and likely will for the foreseeable future), the basketball rivalry lives on. Utah had a chance to knot up the series at 129 all, but instead BYU now holds an all-time series lead of 130-128 (with games dating back to 1909). The Runnin’ Utes’ 12 straight wins over the Cougars from 1995-2000 is the exception rather than the rule, with these teams historically trading wins on a regular basis (including an even 3-3 in the last six contests).

Next up for Utah is a final tune-up against Northwestern State in the Huntsman Center Wednesday, with a 7 p.m. tipoff. Wins will be much harder to come by when Pac-12 play begins next week. Hopefully, Utah will make the most of its last non-conference game.

The Red Rocks looked magnificent in their annual preview last Friday night. More than 5,000 fans were on hand for the show (which is a mere drop in the bucket in comparison to the crowds expected for the upcoming home matches).

Utah finished fifth at the NCAA championships last year, and should be in the hunt for the Super-Six again this year, checking in at No. 5 in the preseason coaches’ poll. The defending Pac-12 champions are picked to finish second this year behind UCLA (which earned the No. 4 spot in the national poll). If Sabrina Schwab had not retired for medical reasons, the Red Rocks would be legitimate contenders for the national title. They still might be.

MyKayla Skinner | Photo courtesy Utah Athletics/Utahutes.com

Super sophomore MyKayla Skinner looks better than ever. “MyKayla is a world-class athlete,” explained Co-Head Coach Tom Farden. “She has added a new leap combination on beam (switch leg leap to a straddle jump to a tuck back) and nailed, her vault was gigantic, and she added a release move to bars that now gives her three.”

It is obvious she enjoys playing to the crowd as she motions for the fans to get loud before her routines, and then giddily jumps in exuberance after her exquisite performances.

Although Skinner alone is worth the price of admission (with Utah gymnastics tickets remaining to be the best bargain in collegiate athletics), the rest of the team is outstanding as well. The Red Rocks are deep in all-around performers with Missy Reinstadtler and MaKenna Merrell Giles expected to push Skinner in every meet. Senior standout Maddy Stower has enough spirit for the entire squad and wowed the crowd on beam Friday night.

Unfortunately, the actual women’s gymnastics meets are a present that Utah fans won’t get to open until after the holidays, when the Red Rocks host BYU on The Hill on Friday, Jan. 5. At least that match-up should swing the rivalry back in favor of Utah.

The Utah football team is preparing to depart for Dallas later this week to play West Virginia in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl on Tuesday, Dec. 26, with an 11:30 a.m. MT kickoff.

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham, file photo from NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/George Frey)

Kyle Whittingham boasts a gaudy 10-1 bowl record for the highest winning percentage in NCAA history. He is also tied for second with Urban Meyer for most bowl wins among active coaches (only one win behind Alabama’s Nick Saban). His 10 wins also put him in the top 10 all-time for bowl victories (with hopefully more to come, starting the day after Christmas).

“We got back on the practice field and we will hopefully get a few guys back that we were missing toward the end of the season. That will help us be better right there,” Whittingham said after practice last Thursday. “But it just depends on how hard they work. The bowl record is what it is because of the past players’ work ethic. So far, if you gauge it off today, these guys are in the same mindset as the groups before them.”

After a lackluster season, a bowl win is an opportunity to end the season on a positive note.  “It would be a good way to send the seniors out,” confirmed Whittingham. “We won our last home game, so we check that box, now it is an opportunity to send them out with a winning record and positive bowl experience. That would be big.”

Here’s hoping the Runnin’ Utes can right the ship, the Red Rocks live up to expectations with the New Year, and Utah gets Kyle Whittingham his 11th bowl victory in just 12 tries.

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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