In Southern Utah the Red Rocks are always beautiful
Not just stunning landscapes, but the Ute gymnasts as usual
The Flipping Birds put on quite a show for the hometown crowd
But in the end it was by Utah’s Red Rocks they were wowed
COMMENTARY — The Red Rocks took their exquisite show on the road for their second consecutive meet against an in-state rival. Southern Utah’s Flipping Birds have proven that you don’t have to live in a big city to shine in the bright lights of competition. While Utah ultimately prevailed with a comfortable 1.125 point margin, Southern Utah made it interesting through the very last rotation of the meet.
The Red Rocks led the entire night. However, they left the door open during the third rotation on the floor, ending with a fall and a stumble in their last two routines. The Flipping Birds closed strong on the floor, claiming four of the top six scores in the event. Utah ended with the beam, which has not necessarily been its strongest event.
Samantha Partyka and Kari Lee came up big on the beam, tying for first with 9.90 scores. However, after Lee’s big routine, Baely Rowe fell on her mount, putting the pressure on Maddy Stover to close the event and meet with a solid routine. Stover did not disappoint with a 9.85 to secure the victory for the Red Rocks.
This weekend Utah competes in the first home matinee in school history as it hosts Oregon State on The Hill at 3 p.m. on Saturday.
The Red Rocks always enjoys a huge advantage at home with one of the best crowds in all collegiate athletics. There will likely be a near capacity crowd on Saturday approaching 15,000 fans. In comparison, Southern Utah had a near capacity crowd in Centrum Arena last weekend that only totaled 4,873 fans.
I will admit that I have poked fun at the Runnin’ Utes for not being able to draw as many fans into the Huntsman Center as the Red Rocks, who habitually pack the house. Please allow me to extend my sincerest apologies to Utah’s boys as it turns out they are the second biggest home draw in Pac-12 conference play behind only Arizona with an average of 12,733 fans per home conference game. Amazingly, league leading USC and Washington (4-1 apiece in conference play) are only averaging 4,804 and 6,976 fans, respectively, at their home conference games.
The Runnin’ Utes did not necessarily live up to their moniker with an extremely slow start in conference play, losing three of their first four games, including a 77-59 loss to Oregon at home last Friday night. The sole win was a narrow two-point victory on the road against Colorado. Although still early in the conference season, the Sunday night match-up with Oregon State was a pivotal game that would either keep Utah in the hunt as part of the big log jam in the middle of the pack, or relegate it to trying to escape the Pac-12 cellar.
The Beavers dominated the first 30 minutes of the game, sprinting out of the gate to an 11-2 lead and holding the Runnin’ Utes to a mere 23 points in the first half. Going in to the Oregon State game, Utah had not won a game all season when it trailed at the half.
The Runnin’ Utes chipped away at the lead multiple times in the second half, but the Beavers would always answer and keep Utah at bay. However, the Runnin’ Utes never gave up and as the clock wound down they turned up the pressure outscoring Oregon State 21-5 over the final 10 minutes.
While Utah was very good from the free throw line in non-conference play, the charity stripe has been a mixed bag depending on which Runnin’ Ute has been standing at the line in conference play. Lorenzo Bonham leads the Pac-12 in conference play shooting 90 percent from the stripe. Brandon Taylor checks in at number 13, shooting 80 percent. However, as a team Utah is dead last in the Pac-12 shooting 63.6 percent from the line.
On Sunday night, it looked like the Runnin’ Utes’ free throw shooting woes were going to cost them another game. With the score knotted at 52 with under three minutes to play, Brandon Taylor made one of two from the line for Utah’s first lead of the game. The Beavers turned the ball over trying to rebound Taylor’s miss, and then proceeded to foul Kyle Kuzma. Kuzma missed the front end of a one-and-one, and then immediately committed a foul.
Ultimately, the Runnin’ Utes only made 6 of 10 free throws in the final three minutes of the game, but four straight makes by Taylor and Dakari Tucker provided enough of a cushion to weather the last minute storm by the Beavers.
Similar to the results in football, the Pac-12 is really cannibalizing itself, with four teams sitting at 3-2, and another four teams right behind at 2-3.
At this point, it is going to be a tough row to hoe for Utah to make its way back to the top of the Pac-12. The Runnin’ Utes are dead last in the conference in scoring offense and second-to-last in scoring margin. That is going to have to change if Utah expects to be competitive down the stretch.
“We have to be a lot better,” explained Larry Krystkowiak after the game. “We teeter on a not very good direction. It is persistence in this league. It is going to require some grit, passion and persistence; a couple of words in our program. We have to stay with it. I like to believe it won’t get much harder than this what we have gone through. Hopefully, this is a little bit of a confidence boost for us to be able to close out a game.”
The Runnin’ Utes pack their bags for the road once again this week as they travel to Washington State on Thursday (7 p.m. tip on Fox Sports 1), and Washington next Sunday (6:30 pm tip on ESPNU).
Here’s hoping the Red Rocks rock the house once again on Saturday afternoon, and the Runnin’ Utes can maintain the momentum with some big conference road wins this weekend.
Bleeding Red is a sports column written by Dwayne Vance. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of St. George News.
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