Bleeding Red: Defense the key for Runnin’ Utes in sweep

Throwback week, past and present both combine for a perfect storm
Celebrate the Final Four with a win to give fans a thrill
The Runnin’ Utes are tasting success as they return to form
But the Red Rocks proved again they are still the class on The Hill

COMMENTARY – It was a good week for the University of Utah with the Runnin’ Utes and Red Rocks going a combined 3-0 against their respective opponents in three consecutive nights on The Hill.

utesLet’s start with gymnastics. Utah hosted Arizona State on Friday. The Red Rocks, currently ranked No. 3 in the nation, have been so good recently that I have stopped paying attention to how well their current opponent is doing and am instead paying attention to how well they are doing against the other top teams in the country.

The last couple of weeks Utah has kept pace, and even set the pace, against the other top teams in the country. However, this week was a bit of a struggle for the Red Rocks in comparison to the other top teams nationally.

Calling a 197.075 total score a struggle for most teams in the country would be insane. As of this current moment, only eight (including Utah) of the Top 25 teams average a score of 197 or higher. This goes to show just how good the Red Rocks are this season when a 197.075 is considered an off meet.

No matter how crazy it sounds, Utah did struggle in this one. The judges did not go easy on either team last week and the Red Rocks once again experienced trouble on their greatest weakness, the beam. Surprisingly, Utah even struggled on the floor, in which they currently rank No. 1 nationally, with Macey Roberts falling on one of her flips and Missy Reinstadtler stepping out of bounds during her routine. Those weren’t the only individual difficulties with MaKenna Merrell-Giles uncharacteristically falling off the beam. However, she was able to get past that and finished strong with a 9.925 on the floor.

“The first vault score (a 9.775 for Reinstadtler) shocked us a little because it was a beautiful vault,” admitted Kari Lee. “We tried hard not to let the scores get to us and we had some highs and lows (with our routines), but we fought through everything.”

As always, the anchor of the team was MyKayla Skinner who delivered a 9.9 on both the vault and Beam, a 9.925 on bars, and a 9.95 on the floor. Skinner won her 16th all-around of her career which puts her fourth place for most all-around wins in school history, and she is only partway through her sophomore year. The current record-holder is Ashley Postell with 30 wins.

Utah guard Justin Bibbins (1) dives for a loose ball as California guard Juhwan Harris-Dyson (2) defends during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Moving to basketball, the Runnin’ Utes had a great week in which they first beat Stanford, at the time the third-place team in the Pac-12, and then thumped Cal while keeping them to their lowest point total of the season of 43, the previous being 53, while Utah soared with 77 points off 13 3-pointers.

The last couple of games, the Runnin’ Utes have done extremely well on the defensive end. They kept the Cardinal to 36 percent shooting while they kept the Golden Bears to only 30 percent shooting.

“I think we’re really committed to playing defense,” explained Larry Krystkowiak after the win over Cal. “It feels good, feels like we’re playing the game the right way.”

Not only did Utah win on Saturday, but there was also a celebration of the Runnin’ Utes 1998 Final Four team. Before the game, members of that team signed autographs for fans and they came out during halftime, where they were honored one by one. The stadium even showed a video of highlights from the 1998 NCAA Tournament set to music created by Joey Braxton.

Players from the Utah team which played in the 1998 NCAA championship game against Kentucky are honored during a halftime ceremony in Utah’s NCAA college basketball game against California on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Amazingly, at 7-6, Utah is only one game out of second place in the Pac-12, a spot currently occupied by both UCLA and USC with identical 8-5 records.

Coming up this week, the Runnin’ Utes will be traveling to the Evergreen State to take on Washington on Thursday and Washington State on Saturday, while the Red Rocks travel to Los Angeles for a showdown against No. 2-ranked UCLA (who recently leap-frogged Utah in the standings) on Sunday.

Here’s hoping the Runnin’ Utes can keep dominating defensively and that the Red Rocks can reap revenge on the Bruins for beating them earlier in the season.

Bleeding Red is a sports column written by Josh 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, 2018, all rights reserved.

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