A long season of highs and lows wears on
With most of the games now played and long gone
The Runnin’ Utes have gotten back on track
And finally got the monkey off their back
COMMENTARY — What do the Runnin’ Utes and George Michael have in common? They both did some of their best work in the late 80s and into the 90s. Even more telling: They have both had to deal with monkeys on their backs. “Don’t look now, there’s a monkey on your back.”
Utah had not one, but two milestone moments last week. In splitting games with USC and UCLA, the Runnin’ Utes proved the old adage that you’re never quite as good as you think you are when you win, and you’re never quite as bad as you think you are when you lose.
Utah picked up its first road win of the season against the Trojans last Thursday. The victory marked only the second road win for the Runnin’ Utes since joining the Pac-12 in 2011. The inability to win a road game had become such a monkey on Utah’s back that it was approaching gorilla proportions.
While I will always take any win, any day, especially over a Pac-12 opponent, and in particular on the road, let’s not make more of a win over USC than is warranted. The 10-14 Trojans have only won a single conference game. Amazingly, that was a win over UCLA, but USC is still the bottom dweller in the Pac-12 cellar.
“It was a huge win for us,” point guard Brandon Taylor noted after the game. “We came out with the mindset that we were going to do anything to get ourselves a win. We didn’t play as well as we would’ve liked, but it was enough. That matters.”
Taylor is certainly a straight shooter in more than one sense. He is one of the most dangerous deep threats on the floor for the Runnin’ Utes. His assessment of the win over the Trojans was also dead on. While it was a win that Utah desperately needed, it was certainly not one of the Runnin’ Utes’ better games.
The win over USC brought Utah back to .500 in conference play at 6-6, with a chance to improve to 7-6 against UCLA. Notably, the Runnin’ Utes have never had a winning record in conference play since joining the Pac-12.
But alas, a win over the Bruins was not meant to be. Two days after beating USC, Utah finally lost its first game by double-digits in a game. UCLA simply dominated in the second half. In retrospect, the loss is really no great surprise.
The Runnin’ Utes were greatly relieved after securing their first road win. In contrast, the Bruins were seething from a prior loss in the Huntsman Center and looking to exact a measure of revenge on their home court. Add in UCLA’s surge to within one game of conference-leading Arizona, and the factors all combined to create a recipe for disaster for Utah.
Even though the Runnin’ Utes came up short in the second half against the Bruins, Utah gave UCLA all it could handle for the first 20 minutes of the contest, with a mere two points separating the squads at the break.
Of course, this was just another game in the Pac-12. Competition on the hardwood has become fierce in conference play as just about any team can beat any other team on any given day. The top teams are still winning consistently, but losing just enough to make things interesting. The middle of the pack is a downright dogfight among fairly evenly-matched teams.
Utah still has five games left in conference play, but I already can’t wait for the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas next month. Next up for Utah is a three-game home stand against Arizona, Arizona State and Colorado. These will be the Runnin’ Utes’ last home games of the season.
One last note arises from my very first geocaching experience. A friend of mine has been telling me about his geocaching adventures for years. As our families were together in St. George last weekend, he finally piqued my interest with a cache labelled “Swoop” and named for the creator’s favorite college mascot.
I was somewhat proud of myself for being the first one to find the cache itself as we searched the designated spot. Unfortunately, my excitement soon turned to disappointment as the cache turned out to be a small, simple cardboard envelope covered in tape with a small paper log inside. Much to my chagrin, there was no drum and feather logo and the cache itself wasn’t even red!
In other words, my geocaching maiden voyage epitomized Utah’s season thus far — lots of promise sparking considerable excitement, with an underwhelming conclusion. Here’s hoping that the Runnin’ Utes and future geocaching journeys both provide more excitement in my life.
Dwayne Vance is a sports columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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