No. 2 Utes finally have a worthy foe: No. 4 Florida
For the past several weeks, the main competition for Utah's gymnastics team has been self-manufactured.
Opponents haven't been nearly as good as Utah, so the Utes have focused on building higher and higher scores for themselves, knowing that wins have been certainties.
That all changes tonight for the No. 2 Utes, as No. 4 Florida comes to town.
Not only do the Gators present the biggest challenge to Utah's seven-meet winning streak since Utah lost at Georgia on Jan. 19, they are also expected to be favorites along with the Utes at the NCAA Championships in April.
The Utes want a win tonight as sort of a statement. Of course, there is also the motivation of winning Kristina Baskett and Nina Kim's final home meet and the anticipation of a packed house. The Utes need just 10,910 fans to show up to break the team's 16-year-old record average attendance mark of 13,164.
It should be a pressure-packed night, which is just what the Utes want before their postseason run.
"We need this kind of meet," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "We need these experiences to toughen us up and get us ready. Florida is going to get it this week and at the SEC Championships; for us, this looks like our last shot."
Florida has beaten the Utes in the last three regular-season meetings, a streak that includes the Utes' last home loss, on March 9, 2007. Since then, the Utes have won their last 13 home regular-season meets.
The postseason has been a different story, with Utah finishing higher than Florida every year since 2004. The battles have created quite a rivalry between the teams, and is one of the reasons that Marsden jokingly said Utah's "I hate the SEC" T-shirts "never go in the closet."
"It creates that locker room chalkboard talk," he said of the close meets. "Both coaches can put something up on the board that encourages their team to focus, and that has certainly been the case with Florida. They're a contender year in and year out for nationals, and there is no question in my mind they're going to win it sooner or later."
The Utes hope that "sooner" doesn't mean this season, since they like their own chances.
"A lot of people doubted us this year because we lost Ashley [Postell], but I didn't," Baskett said. "We have blown all those doubts out of the water."
At the Huntsman Center
Start » Tonight, 7 p.m.
TV » March 15: 11 a.m., Ch. 4; March 19: 8 p.m., the mtn.
About the Utes » This is Utah's first competition against a top 5 team since losing to then-No. 4 Georgia on Jan. 19. ... Tonight is the final home competition for seniors Kristina Baskett and Nina Kim, who lead the team with 23 and eight wins, respectively. ... Utah completes its regular season next week at BYU. ... Olympic all-around gold medalist Nastia Liukin, Kim's best friend, will attend the meet.
About the Gators » Florida has beaten the Utes in the last three regular-season meets. ... Nine-time All-American Corey Hartung is doubtful to compete in tonight's meet because of a calf strain. ... The Gators are coached by Rhonda Faehn (120-31-2 in 7th year).
Elsewhere » BYU competes at Utah State tonight, 7 p.m.; SUU competes at Boise State on Sat., 7 p.m.
A close meet is anticipated tonight. Here is a look at how the teams stack up event by event in their regional qualifying average.
Vault 49.365 49.215
Uneven bars 49.325 49.315
Balance beam 49.175 49.0
Floor 49.285 49.29
Total 196.985 196.53