The Huntsman Center is rocking on The Hill
Filling Utah’s fans with many thrilling chills
Both hoopsters and gymnasts are coming on strong
The wait for their next victory won’t be long
COMMENTARY — I don’t mean to brag, but it appears that I have a real shot at winning $10 million on Feb. 26, 2016, in the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes. In fact, I have been notified that due to my recent activity, I am one of a select few who have been given extra opportunities to win. If and when the Prize Patrol shows up on my door, I’m throwing a big party at the Tuacahn Amphitheater, and everyone will be invited!
As much as I like my chances to win some valuable prizes in the not too distant future, both the Runnin’ Utes and the Red Rocks are in prime position to win big themselves.
Let’s start with the men’s basketball team. Utah went 11-2 in its non-conference games, including wins over Duke, San Diego State, and Temple, with the only two losses coming to Miami and Wichita State — both of whom are currently ranked.
The Runnin’ Utes then lost three of their first four conference games, including a very winnable game in Palo Alto against Stanford, but bounced back to win five in a row to stay in the hunt in a very competitive Pac-12 race.
Then they hit another bump in the road by dropping both road games against Oregon and Oregon State, but returned home to beat Washington and Washington State to complete a four-game season sweep of the Evergreen State.
Oregon is the only Pac-12 team to beat the Runnin’ Utes twice this year, and no other conference team even has a chance to do that prior to the conference tournament.
Utah is now 8-5 in conference play (19-7 overall), and just one game out of first place in the conference. With games still to be played against conference co-leader Arizona (9-4), Colorado (8-5), and USC (7-5), the Runnin’ Utes still control their own destiny with respect to one of the four coveted first round byes in the Pac-12 Conference Tournament in Las Vegas the second week of March.
Notwithstanding some early struggles and inconsistent play, Utah is still in a position to make some noise in the post-season tournaments and is playing some of its best basketball of the year.
Utah is leading the Pac-12 in scoring defense in conference play. The old adage that defense wins championships is actually a little too simplistic. I do think it is true that you can’t win a championship without a good defense, but no matter how good your defense is, you still can’t win if your offense isn’t scoring points.
In the Runnin’ Utes five conference losses, they have scored an average of 64 points per game. In their eight conference wins, that per game scoring average jumps dramatically to more than 79 points for a 15-point swing.
In other words, Utah’s defense consistently holds opponents under their scoring average and gives the team a chance to win every game — if the Runnin’ Utes can just score. That is reflected by the fact that Utah is in the bottom half of the Pac-12 in overall scoring offense, but in the upper half in scoring margin.
The Runnin’ Utes are entering the home stretch of season play, with two road games against UCLA (Wednesday, 8 p.m. MT on ESPN2) and USC (Sunday at 4 p.m. MT on the Pac-12 Network).
“It’s our last road trip, Southern California is tough,” explained Coach Larry Krytkowiak. “Both of those teams, UCLA with their size and rebounding ability, and USC is playing great.”
The Red Rocks have also encountered some bumps early in the season.
Utah debuted at No. 4 in the preseason coaches’ poll, and were picked to win their third consecutive Pac-12 title. Such preseason love said a lot about the respect the program garners nationally, notwithstanding a strong graduating class, including superstar Georgia Dabritz, and taking into account the seemingly unlimited potential of the talented incoming freshman class.
The Red Rocks took a huge hit when Kari Lee suffered a season-ending injury to her Achilles tendon in practice at the end of January. Lee was a three-time All-American and NCAA event finalist last year as a freshman. Competing as Utah’s only all-arounder in the first three meets this season, and already having victories in the all-around and beam under her belt, Lee was a big factor in the high expectations for the Red Rocks this season.
Utah also struggled early in the season on the floor, and at times was very inconsistent on the beam.
The true character of champions is revealed not so much in success as it is in trials and challenges. While ordinary people crumble in the face of adversity, champions use adversity as a refiner’s fire and come through their challenges stronger than ever.
The Red Rocks have weathered their early season challenges and have emerged stronger than ever. They have scored more than 197 points in their last three meets, including a road meet against UCLA.
Utah is now the highest-ranked Pac-12 team, checking it at No. 5. With steady improvement over the course of the first part of the season, the sky is the limit for these talented ladies if they are able to carry their current trajectory for their remaining meets and into the post-season.
Next up for the Red Rocks is a road meet against Stanford on Saturday starting at 3 p.m. MT on the Pac-12 Network.
Here’s hoping both the Runnin’ Utes and the Red Rocks continue their winning ways with big road wins in the Golden State this week.
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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