One little hop, one step-out, one not so perfect handstand. When you are battling a team that has redefined championship caliber the last two years, your shot has to be perfect.

On Saturday, Utah’s fourth-ranked gymnastics team landed some good shots at second-ranked UCLA (10-0, 6-0), but the Utes’ best efforts were just a little off as the defending NCAA champions from Los Angeles escaped the Huntsman Center with a 198.025-197.625 win.

It was the first loss for the Utes (9-2, 5-1) at home since 2012, breaking a streak of 34 regular-season meet wins. That winning streak was the longest since the Utes won 170 in a row from 1979 to 2003.

Utah and UCLA will meet again in a few weeks when the Pac-12 Championships are held at the Maverik Center in West Valley, but thoughts of a rematch won’t take the sting away from Saturday’s defeat, which came in front of a sold-out crowd of 15,558.

“Too many hops, too many steps and half-tenths here and there and we kind of nickled ourselves tonight,” Utah coach Tom Farden said. “I addressed that in the team meeting that if we are going to go toe to toe with the best in the country, and that is our goal, we have to make sure we let the gymnastics happen and not try to force those landings.”

Adding to the disappointment was the big showdown on floor. UCLA’s Katelyn Ohashi, who became an internet sensation with her dancey and unusual tumbling combinations, earned a 9.925. MyKayla Skinner, Utah’s junior who is known for her tumbling difficulty, capped off Utah’s meet with what looked like a clean routine. The judges disagreed, giving Skinner the same score as Ohashi. A visibly disappointed Skinner threw up her hands in the judges direction as if asking what else she could do.

“I was sad but still happy to put up a big routine for the team,” Skinner said. “I was excited about competing in the Huntsman again and feeling those emotions and intensity. It’s my favorite thing to do.”

UCLA’s Kyla Ross, who won the uneven bars title with a 10.0, also won the all-around with a 39.775. Skinner was second with a season high 39.75.

The meet was as close as predicted, with the teams almost matching score for score, leaving UCLA with a 148.475-148.225 advantage going into the final rotation where Utah would be on floor and the Bruins on the balance beam.

Making up the .25 on floor wouldn’t be hard for the Utes against most teams, but UCLA is of a different pedigree.

The teams were almost dead even in averages, with Utah averaging 49.382 on the floor and UCLA averaging 49.386 on the beam.

Not surprisingly, the teams matched their first two routine scores.

Then the crack came for UCLA when Madison Kocian, a member of the 2016 Olympic team, fell off the beam as the third up.

But true to their championship caliber, the Bruins responded with three scores above 9.9. The Utes had 9.925s from Sydney Soloski and Skinner, but the usually dependable MaKenna Merrell-Giles stepped out and scored just 9.725.

“Whoops is all I have to say,” Merrell-Giles said. “I don’t know what happened.”

That the Utes put themselves in position to win the meet with a solid balance beam effort did give the Utes some confidence despite the loss. The Utes scored a season high 49.375 on beam, a score the gymnasts attributed to Farden’s ‘boot camp,’ beam practice this week.

Normally co-coach Megan Marsden handles the beam coaching, but Farden said the two talked and agreed he should be more involved. Farden indicated it was their own version of a ‘good cop, bad cop,‘ coaching duo.

“We decided to change up things and see if having another voice over there would bring a different outcome,” he said.

The Utes finish their regular season with meets against Michigan and Georgia before seeing the Bruins again in the Pac-12 Championships on March 23.

UCLA coach Valorie Kondos Field wasn’t quite ready to look ahead to that competition since her team has three meets remaining.

“We aren’t looking at Pac-12s or regionals or nationals,” she said. “We are looking at resting the next few days and at our next meet against Oklahoma.”

The Utes, meanwhile, said they are eager to get back into the gym, feeling like they’ve figured out some of their issues on beam.

“We know they wanted to beat us because we beat them on their home turf last year,” Skinner said. “But Pac-12s, we are coming for you, you better watch out.”

NO. 2 UCLA 198.025, N0. 4 UTAH 197.625


In short: UCLA ended Utah’s second-longest winning streak of 37 meets in a row by breaking the 198 mark for the second time in a row.
Key moment: The Utes had a chance to win it on floor, but MaKenna Merrell-Giles had an uncharacteristic step-out and scored just 9.725
Key stat: UCLA has defeated its last 38 opponents, dating to a 197.55-197.425 loss to Utah in Los Angeles.
Individual winners
Vault: Felicia Hano (UCLA) and MaKenna Merrell-Giles (Utah) 9.95
Uneven bars: Kyla Ross (UCLA) 10.0
Balance beam: MyKayla Skinner (Utah) and Kyla Ross (UCLA) 9.95
Floor: MyKayla Skinner (Utah) and Katelyn Ohashi (UCLA) 9.925
All-around: Kyla Ross (UCLA) 39.775