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Utah gymnastics: Utes coach puts pressure on UCLA, saying 'I don't see how they aren't the team that should win and win easily'

Published March 18, 2017 7:38 pm

Utah gymnastics • Red Rocks out for revenge vs. '16 champs.
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Beating UCLA earlier in the season gave Utah's gymnastics team a boost of confidence and some bragging rights over the Pac-12 rival.

But that regular-season win pales to the importance of Saturday's competition. Wrestling the Pac-12 Championship away from the third-ranked Bruins is something the fifth-ranked Utes really want, something they've been aiming for ever since the Bruins won the crown with a 197.25 while the Utes settled for second with 196.925 last year.

There are other teams competing for the title, including No. 10 Oregon State, which was the only Pac-12 team to beat the Utes this season, but most expectations are Saturday's meet should come down to the Bruins and Utes if they hit.

"There is a rivalry in the Pac-12, but with UCLA, it's strong," Utah sophomore Kari Lee said. "They won it last year, but we definitely want to take the title back. We're capable of it if we put everything together."

Even though the Utes defeated the Bruins 197.875-197.5 four weeks ago, UCLA goes into the competition as the top seed thanks to its strong finish, which gave it a 197.5 regional qualifying score.

The Utes, who have an RQS of 197.355, are coming off a disappointing 197.25-196.65 loss at Georgia, but they insist they are putting that result behind them and are focused on the Pac-12 meet. Freshman star MyKayla Skinner said the finish at Georgia might have sharpened the team in a good way.

"When we lost at Oregon State, it gave us an extra boost to go in there and attack and work hard," she said. "We are pushing the same way to do well this weekend."

The difference between the Georgia meet and UCLA home meet was clear. The Utes were spot-on against the Bruins but suffered two falls against Georgia. They struggled to be aggressive in their bar set and nail clean landings.

Utah coach Megan Marsden said those mistakes are preventable.

"We know we can do better on bars and vault," she said. "What was exciting for me was to see we had the confidence to do well on beam in that kind of environment [at Georgia]. We know we can improve on the landings and other things in the other events, too."

Marsden nevertheless conceded beating UCLA will be difficult.

"There are several teams that have a chance, but they are so deep, with four Olympians, I don't see how they aren't the team that should win and win easily," she said. "But that is why you have the competition. We are going to prepare and be ready to go to battle and see who is the best on that day."

While the team title is the main goal, the Utes also will be going for several individual awards. Most notable is Utah's hold on the all-around title. A Ute has won the crown every year since Utah joined the conference in 2011.

Skinner is the favorite this season since she is ranked second nationally and has won every all-around competition except the one at Georgia. She said she is more focused on the team competition than any individual honor that might come her way.

"You always want to go out there and do what you do," she said. "I am confident I can do my routines. And if winning is meant to be, then that's awesome." —

Pac-12 Championships

When • Saturday

Where • Stanford

Session 1 • California (vault), Stanford (bars), Arizona (beam), Arizona State (floor), 2 p.m. MDT

Session 2 • UCLA (vault), Utah (bars), Oregon State (floor), Washington (beam), 7 p.m. MDT

TV • Pac-12 Network

(start order in parentheses)

Mountain Rim Championships

While the Utes are battling for the Pac-12 title, Utah State, BYU and SUU will be in Logan competing for the Mountain Rim Gymnastics Conference Championships starting at 6 p.m.

The 11th-ranked Boise State Broncos are the favorites to win a third straight title, but No. 19 SUU has come on strong of late while No. 23 Utah State will have the home advantage.

BYU is out of the Top 25 rankings, but the Cougars did score a 195.65-195.625 win over the Thunderbirds in the last regular-season meeting. That meet was notable for a 10.0 earned by SUU's Stacie Webb on the balance beam, the first perfect score in SUU history.

The Broncos set a school record for team high score in their last meet, beating No. 8 Denver 197.675-197.15.






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