Bleeding Red: Wild week as Red Rocks and Runnin’ Utes both win on the road

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COMMENTARY – Both the Runnin’ Utes and the Red Rocks came up big last week. But being the gentleman that my mother taught me to be, we’ll start with ladies first.

utesUtah had a Sunday evening showdown on the road against UCLA. The two schools have combined to win five of the six Pac-12 titles to date. In the preseason media poll, the Bruins were picked to win the Pac-12 with the Red Rocks coming in a close second. Utah’s only loss this season came at the hands of UCLA in a quad meet in Reno with a 1-2 finish mirroring the media poll. Going in to this meet, the Bruins were ranked No. 2 in the nation with the Red Rocks hot on their heels at No. 3. Utah hadn’t won in Pauley Pavilion since 2008. Hollywood wishes it could write a better storyline than this.

The two squads also take a very different approach to competition. The Bruins carry 24 gymnasts on the roster, whereas the Red Rocks only have 13. In Sunday’s meet, UCLA had 14 different gymnasts perform to Utah’s nine. The Red Rocks had three gymnasts compete in the all-around, and the Bruins had a solo all-arounder. Very different approaches, but similar high caliber results.

UCLA gained a slim advantage in the first rotation and held on to the lead as the squads were dead even in the second rotation. Utah caught up in the third rotation with a big score of 49.550 on floor (that turned out to be the best team score on any event for the meet). Going into the last rotation, the squads were stalemated at 148.150 with the Bruins finishing up on the floor and the Red Rocks on the beam.

Photo courtesy Utah Athletics

Three of UCLA’s first four gymnasts stepped out of bounds. The Bruins found themselves in similar dire straits two weeks ago against top-ranked Oklahoma and closed out the meet with two perfect 10.0 scores on the floor for the win. They came close to doing it again with two 9.975 scores. However, even two perfect scores wouldn’t have saved them this time.

Utah was shaky on the beam in the first two meets, but has been solid ever since. Demonstrating how much this squad has improved over the season, the Red Rocks slammed the door and put the meet out of reach by posting a score of 49.400 on the beam (which was better than Utah’s scores on both the vault and the bars). The Red Rocks walked away with the win 197.550 to 197.425.

Utah is currently ranked No. 4 nationally, with event rankings of No. 1 on the floor, No. 2 on the vault, No. 6 on the bars, and No. 7 on the beam. The Red Rocks just need to make it to the Super Six at nationals, when the same judges score the gymnasts from all squads and they will be just fine.

MyKayla Skinner won the all-around, again (yawn). In fact, three of Utah’s four all-arounders bested UCLA’s solo entry. Skinner is ranked No. 2 in the nation in the all-around, with MaKenna Merrell-Giles checking in at No. 10 and Kari Lee at No. 11. Skinner already holds the Pac-12 single-season and career marks for most Gymnast of the Week awards, and she hasn’t even finished her sophomore year of competition. To say that she is already one of the sport’s greats is an incredible understatement (somewhat akin to saying Rembrandt was a pretty good artist).

“You could feel the pressure on both teams in this great environment,” said Utah co-head coach Tom Farden after the meet. “That beam was maybe the best we have done all year. Our beam workers stayed in their element under intense pressure and we continue to show a ton of tenacity.”

The Red Rocks return to the Golden State next weekend for another road meet against Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Utah forward David Collette, right, grabs a rebound over Washington State forward Jeff Pollard during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018, in Pullman, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Meanwhile, the Runnin’ Utes had their own successful road trip, sweeping Washington and Washington State. Notably, Utah has swept the entire Pacific Northwest of the Pac-12 this season (after sweeping Oregon and Oregon State on an early season road trip).

Utah has climbed to No. 4 in the Pac-12, a single game back of UCLA and USC. Coincidentally, the Runnin’ Utes will host both the Bruins and the Trojans on The Hill this week, before the season finale against the Buffaloes (also a home game).

This year, the Pac-12 has been defined by parity. Going into last week, eight of the 12 teams were within a single game of each other. Last week’s contests spread the teams out somewhat. The good news for Utah is that it now controls its own destiny with respect to at least a potential tie for second place in the Pac-12. The Runnin’ Utes also own tie-breakers over both Washington and Stanford, who are currently only a half-game back in the standings.

Utah is currently on the bubble in trying to find its way into the NCAA Tournament. With a Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) of 50 and a Basketball Power Index (BPI) of 70, the Runnin’ Utes are sixth in the Pac-12 in both ranking systems. USC and UCLA are No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in the Pac-12 in both rankings, so the games this week present a real opportunity for Utah to improve its resume. Win out, and the Runnin’ Utes will make a strong statement that they deserve an invitation to the Big Dance.

According to the pundits, the only two locks to currently get invited to the Big Dance from the Pac-12 are Arizona and Arizona State. The Wildcats I get. The Sun Devils I don’t. I know, I know, they had non-conference wins over Xavier and Kansas. But they are currently 7-7 in conference play and were only above .500 for a single game at 7-6 after beating UCLA before losing to Arizona (again).

The Wildcats have three conference losses, but the Sun Devils haven’t been responsible for any of them. I freely admit that math is not my strong suit, but why do the ranking systems give Arizona State so much credit for two non-conference games when they’ve struggled so mightily in conference play? Nationally, they are considered to be the second-best team in the Pac-12, even though they are currently in the bottom half of the conference in the seventh spot. Hmmm, I wonder how many losses Xavier and Kansas would currently have if they played in the Pac-12?

Here’s hoping the Red Rocks continue to shine in sunny California and the Runnin’ Utes get the work done necessary to justify their fairy godmother turning them into Cinderella in time for the Big Dance.

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

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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