Sloppy start: The Utes were in a big hole entering the final rotation, but manage to deal the Bruins a loss in the season opener
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LOS ANGELES - The prediction was that Utah's second-ranked gymnastics team wouldn't match its impressive opening of the 2005 season, when the Utes knocked off then-top-ranked UCLA with a near-flawless meet.
Well, the expectations played out almost that way. Utah was far from perfect Saturday, competing at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion, but so were the Bruins.
The Utes overcame a poor start to beat the third-ranked Bruins 194.875-193.85.
Utah was down .325 after three rotations, and a Utah win looked as unlikely as a snowstorm in warm Los Angeles with the powerful Bruins finishing on floor and Utah ending on the balance beam.
But the Utes posted a decent 48.9 on the balance beam, led by a 9.85 from Nicolle Ford. At the same time, the Bruins were struggling on the floor and scored just 47.55. UCLA had to count three scores of 9.475 or lower.
"Winning here was amazing, especially after the start we had," said sophomore Ashley Postell. "But it's how you end the meet that matters."
After the awards, UCLA coach Val Kondos congratulated Utah coach Greg Marsden on the win, then pointed out both teams needed to get a lot better or they would be watching the national championships from the stands.
She's probably not far from the truth, but Marsden, who spent a good part of Wednesday's practice yelling at his team for coming back from Christmas break unprepared, was relatively happy Saturday.
"No," answered Marsden when asked if he felt like UCLA had given the Utes the win. "Any time you come here and win at UCLA it's fun. Can we be a better team? Yes. We'll probably see some improvements even next week. It's the beginning of the year and some teams are going to start out slow. They're starting out slow too."
Utah opened the meet with two falls on the uneven bars, with Katie Kivisto and Postell both hitting the mat. Their mistakes put freshman Nina Kim in an unexpectedly pressure situation as the third to go. She came through, scoring a 9.725.
"I was a little nervous for the team, but I like that kind of pressure," Kim said.
Both Kristina Baskett and Nicolle Ford finished with 9.875s, but because of the earlier mistakes Utah scored just 48.275. UCLA didn't have to count a fall on vault, opening with a 48.625.
Utah recovered a bit on the second rotation, scoring a 48.875 on the vault with Kim getting a team-high of 9.825. UCLA didn't have to count a fall on the bars, but had several with steps on their landings which resulted in a 48.675, leaving Utah .15 behind.
Any hopes of a Utah comeback seemingly ended in the next rotation. The Utes put up a decent floor score, earning a 48.825, but the Bruins finished their balance beam lineup with three scores of 9.85 or better for a 49.0, giving the Bruins a sizeable lead going into the final rotation.
"We didn't know what the score was," said senior Gritt Hofmann. "Beam is always shaky. We just stayed focused on our routines and didn't watch their's."
The win was the third in a row over UCLA for the Utes, and probably their unlikeliest win, given the circumstances.
"The way I look at it, we both screwed up," Marsden said. "It was the kind of meet where we both tried to take ourselves out of it on the first two routines. We were obviously very nervous and that was an atypical meet for UCLA, but I was proud of the way we fought back."
Utes 194.875, Bruins 193.85
IN SHORT: Utah earned its third win in a row over the Bruins. Utah ruined the Bruins' home opener in 2004, too.
KEY MOMENT: After Jessica Duke fell on the beam, Nina Kim delivered a 9.85 to get Utah going again.
KEY STAT: UCLA's Kate Richardson was the only gymnast to score above 9.9. She earned three scores of 9.9 or better.