Los Angeles » Utah's gymnastics team came to Los Angeles hoping to show replacing past seniors Kristina Baskett and Nina Kim wasn't going to be a difficult task.
Instead, the meet highlighted how much their skills are missed.
The second-ranked Utes fell to the No. 5 UCLA Bruins 196.6-195.125 in front of 5,128 at Pauley Pavilion Saturday. The loss marks the first time Utah has fallen in its season opener since 2003 when the Bruins beat the Utes in Salt Lake City.
The decision gave the Bruins a little revenge too since the teams tied in the preliminaries of the NCAA Championships last year. Utah won the tiebreaker when all the scores were counted, allowing it to advance to the Super Six where it finished third.
Both teams are expected to be in the thick of the national hunt this season. Based on Saturday's showing, the Bruins look much more prepared than the Utes for such a run.
UCLA opened up with crisp, clean routines while the Utes stumbled and bobbled through their efforts.
Utah scored just a 48.85 on the uneven bars and a 48.6 on the vault to trail the Bruins 98.45-97.45 at the midpoint. Utah didn't have to count a fall, but had a fall on every event and never threatened the Bruins.
"UCLA normally has a slow start and we looked like UCLA typically does tonight," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "This was a slow start for us. Right from the beginning there were some kinds of mental mistakes made and we didn't look as sharp. It's the first meet and you expect some first-meet jitters and we certainly had those. But UCLA, I have to take my hat off to them. They didn't have any of that. They were well prepared."
The Utes finished stronger than they started, but little deductions such as two step-outs on the floor and wobbles on the balance beam prevented them from making any kind of comeback. It didn't help either that UCLA kept churning out one strong routine after another one.
UCLA, which hasn't won a national title since 2004, looked every bit like a team that could break its drought. The Bruins didn't have any major mistakes and had low scores of 9.7, both of which were on the balance beam.
UCLA coach Valorie Kondos Field said she reminded her team of its loss to Utah in the NCAA preliminaries last year, but the meet wasn't necessarily about beating Utah.
"It was about performing how we train," she said. "This sends a message that UCLA is back and can contend for a national championship."
The Utes did have some good results. Senior Annie DiLuzio was solid, freshman Katelyn Mohr made her debut with a 9.7 on the floor and junior Kyndal Robarts had a 9.85 on the vault and was third in the all-around with a 39.15.
The individual efforts were tempered by the team's struggles.
"We're not happy," DiLuzio said. "We'll take it back to the gym and we'll be determined to fix the mistakes we made tonight. It's not a good feeling to lose, but at least it's the first meet of the season and we can build on it."
While replacing Baskett and Kim is difficult to do, Marsden said the team simply wasn't ready enough to compete Saturday.
"This is the team we have right now and they have to step up and decide how good they are going to be," he said. "Ultimately I didn't have them prepared and I feel as responsible, if not more responsible than anyone because it's my job to make sure they are ready to start the season and ready to be where they need to be. I'm making it sound worse than it is, but it was a disappointing start."
R IN SHORT » Utah lost its first season opener since 2003 as the Bruins beat the Utes for just the second time in Los Angeles during the regular season.
KEY MOMENT » The Utes needed a big vault rotation to have any hopes of catching the Bruins but instead they managed only 48.6 because of mistakes.
KEY STAT » The Utes' final score was the lowest since 2006 when it opened the season with a 194.875-193.85 win over the Bruins.
All-Around » Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs (UCLA) 39.375
Vault » Tauny Frattone (UCLA) 9.9
Uneven bars » Anna Li (UCLA) 9.95
Balance beam » Vanessa Zamarripa (UCLA) and Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs (UCLA) 9.875
Floor » Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs (UCLA) 9.925
» More results inside scoreboard, C11