When the going gets rough
Do you go soft or get tough?
In order to be elite
You have to consistently compete
COMMENTARY — Happy Groundhog Day! As you all well know, today is the day the proverbial groundhog emerges from his hole after a long winter’s nap. If he sees his shadow, then we are in for six more weeks of bad weather, and he returns to his hole. However, if he doesn’t see his shadow, then spring is imminent, and he stays above ground.
After losing two of their last four conference games (and losing those two games by an average of 14 points each), the Runnin’ Utes were experiencing the closest thing to winter they have encountered this season. After dropping a road game to UCLA last Thursday night, and not having beaten any Los Angeles team on the road in basketball since 1961, Utah’s performance against USC yesterday was just as much of a bellwether for the remainder of their season as the groundhog seeing his shadow today.
Well, the Runnin’ Utes certainly saw no shadow on Sunday as they ran the Trojans off the court 67-39. That bounce-back performance continued a well-established trend. Utah has not lost back-to-back games yet this season. After a loss to San Diego State on the road, the Runnin’ Utes won their next four games by an average of nearly 38 points. After a defeat to Kansas, Utah responded with a 13-point victory over UNLV on the road. After losing to Arizona, the Runnin’ Utes beat Washington State by 22.
Speaking of shadows, one can argue that Utah’s black road uniforms cast a much bigger shadow than the red road regalia. In the Runnin’ Utes’ seven road games, they are 0-3 while dressed in black, and 3-1 when sporting red. Now don’t get me wrong, I like the black outfits, and I definitely think they are stylish. But if Utah is going to play like they are attending their own funeral when dressed in black, perhaps the team should stick with the red threads, which seem to produce a much rosier outcome.
Getting back to last week’s two road contests, there was truly a night and day difference between the two games (with UCLA being the dismal night, and USC being the bright, sunny day).
After the loss to UCLA, Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak lamented, “I thought they played harder than us. We really had only about a five-minute stretch when we played hard enough.” Five minutes of playing hard isn’t going to win very many games.
“We’re not the kind of team that can just show up,” Krystkowiak explained. “They outscrapped us and we made it hard on ourselves.”
In stark contrast to their poor performance against the Bruins last Thursday, the Runnin’ Utes outshot, outrebounded, outhustled, and simply outplayed the Trojans from the opening tipoff until the final buzzer sounded. Utah was up 32-12 at halftime, led by as many as 29 points in the second half and never trailed at any point in the game. The 28-point defeat was the biggest loss for USC this year.
For those of you who simply look at the standings and think that USC was simply a gimme, I would like to point out that just a few days earlier, the Trojans scored 94 points in a triple-overtime loss to a good Colorado team. However, against Utah, USC set season lows in points, field goals made, and shooting percentage.
As the first half of conference play has officially concluded, there is no doubt that the 13th-ranked Runnin’ Utes have elevated their level of play and are one of the elite teams in the Pac-12, as well as the nation.
However, at the end of the day, Utah still has a losing road record at 3-4. If the Runnin’ Utes want to continue to be considered a top-tier team, they are going to have to prove that they can win on the road. They have an opportunity to do just that this week as their sole game is on the road against Colorado on Saturday night.
Meanwhile, the Red Rocks continue to rock their competition as these talented ladies show up and perform at a high level every single meet. Unlike the debacle experienced by the men’s basketball team in the Arizona desert just a few weeks ago, the gymnastics squad dominated 18th-ranked Arizona in a road meet last week.
Standout Georgia Dabritz continued to lead the way for the Red Rocks, scoring a perfect 10.0 on bars and a nearly perfect 9.975 on both vault and the floor routine, tying her career all-around high of 39.70 (which is tied for the eighth best all-around score in school history). Led by Dabritz’s dazzling performance, the Red Rocks posted 197.850 points against Arizona for the 10th best score in school history.
Even head coach Greg Marsden was pleased with the performance.
“Finally! That’s what I’ve been waiting for,” he exclaimed after the meet. “I told the team after warm-ups, ‘You guys look like you’re in a really good place. Stay right there!’ And they did! The fun thing is that we can still make improvements.”
While Dabritz has less room for improvement than some of the others, it will be fun to see how good the Red Rocks can ultimately be as they gear up for a run at yet another national title.
Here’s hoping the Red Rocks can keep rolling at home against Arizona State on Friday, and that the Runnin’ Utes are rocking their red threads on the road against Colorado on Saturday!
Dwayne Vance is a columnist covering the Utah Utes. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.
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