As another year passes, there always comes the obligatory look back on the year in sports. The year 2014 was full of highlights for the University of Utah. Here's a look back as some of the best moments, in no particular order, that made 2014 one to remember.
Runnin' Utes Beat UCLA:
The Runnin' Utes' victory over UCLA was one of the tipping points for the Utah basketball program. A signature win that slipped though their fingers on Jan 2 vs Oregon in overtime was not to be denied on Jan 18, 2014. A 10-point halftime lead was erased by a 43-point second half by UCLA, but key free throws down the stretch helped Utah hang on to beat the Bruins 74-69, giving the Runnin' Utes a victory over the reigning Pac-12 champs and establishing themselves as a future contender.
Hardcourt Holy War:
The year 2014 saw only one big rivalry game, as the football teams were on a two-year hiatus, that being the basketball rivalry. Unfortunately for the Utes, the Hardcourt Holy War would be played in Provo where they hadn't beaten the Cougars in their last seven games dating back to 2005. But the Utes were the ranked team (No. 13 at the time), and, as it turned out, the better one, as Utah dropped BYU 65-61.
Utah's defense was again on display, holding the hometown boys in baby blue (yes, they trotted out throwback jerseys for this one) to their lowest point total of the season. Utah guard Delon Wright was all over the court, scoring 16 points and grabbing 11 rebounds, as well as swooping in for timely, momentum-killing steals.
Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak has also completely turned the momentum of the rivalry, as Utah was dominant last season in the Jon M. Huntsman Center. With the win in Provo this season, Utah is on a two-game winning streak in the rivalry, and all signs point to the Power 5 Utes being the more athletic, more talented, better coached team in the future. And with Utah finishing in the Top 25 for football and ranked currently in basketball, 2014 was The Year of the Utes in the two highest profile men's sports.
Utah Football Beats USC... Finally:
Utah has longed to beat USC since being invited to join the Pac-12. A strange ending in 2011 saw not one, but two final scores. In 2012, it was a 14-0 Utah lead that easily evaporated due to a superior USC with another Heisman-caliber quarterback. A huge defensive effort by the Utes in 2013 could not be matched by the Utah offense, and the Utes left the Los Angeles Coliseum disappointed once again.
The 2014 match up once again saw Utah score on defense to start off the game, as the Utes picked up a fumbled lateral and Davion Orphey returned it for a touchdown. The Utes and the Trojans traded blows until the final minutes. USC looked to have secured their lead with a morale- and game-killing first down, when USC's Nelson Agholor stepped out of bounds short of the first down marker on a risky fourth down call. Travis Wilson and Utah's game-winning touchdown pass to Kaelin Clay will go down in history, as Utah won 24-21 in the final seconds. FS1's Gus Johnson asked if 5-1 Utah was, "Real or Fake". After the touchdown Johnson exclaimed, "It's Real!"
Volleyball Runs L.A.:
The Utah volleyball team sweeping the Los Angeles schools was exactly what they needed at exactly the right time. The Utes were on a losing skid, and returned home to host USC and UCLA. The Utes, somewhat surprisingly, swept the No. 19 Trojans in straight sets 3-0, and then returned two days later and did the same to No. 15 UCLA. Sweeping these two teams seemed to boost the confidence of the squad, and they went on a 7-1 match streak, with their lone loss at then No. 1 Stanford. That late season push was enough to get the Utes into the Top 25 and into the NCAA Tournament, where they advanced to the second round, losing to the hometown Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Wichita State SHOCKED:
Shocked in Salt Lake City, is probably how the No. 8 Wichita State felt, as they fell to the Utes on the Huntsman Center floor 69-68 in overtime. The Shockers only loss in the past two seasons had come in the NCAA Tournament.
It did not look good for the Utes early, as they fell behind 10-0. Utah freshman Jakob Peoltl showcased his talents in front of a packed house and national TV audience. Peoltl scored 12 points, and pulled down 11 rebounds. Brandon Taylor led the Utes with 17, and Delon Wright and Dakarai Tucker each scored 13. The Utes took the lead and held on to it for most of the second half, before a late rally by the Shockers forced overtime. The Utes got the go-ahead score with 14 seconds left in OT by Wright, and the shockers missed key free throws, as the Utes held on to beat Wichita State.
L.A. Sack Party:
The Utes came up smelling like roses, beating then No. 8 UCLA in Pasadena. The Utes were coming off a disappointing loss to the Washington State Cougars 28-27, and heading to the Rose Bowl to take on the Bruins seemed to be a sure loss. After a slow start by the Utes, quarterback Travis Wilson was benched in favor of Kendall Thompson. Thompson showed his speed and athleticism at the quarterback position, and threw a long touchdown pass to Dres Anderson, who made an acrobatic catch between two defenders to get the score. Tevin Carter intercepted a pass for a touchdown before what ultimately became a season ending injury. Devontae Booker carried the load for the Utes with 156 yards on the ground, cementing himself as the starting tailback.
Nate Orchard and the Utah defense established the nickname Sack Lake City, sacking Heisman hopeful and UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley 10 times, which is No. 2 in the Ute records books for a single game. UCLA mounted a comeback, and down 30-28, the Bruins set up for a game-winning field goal that went wide right. Hope was not dimmed for UCLA, for a dive by UCLA's kicker on the play, gave the Bruins a second chance. As the second chance was also missed, the Utes were victorious over a UCLA team that had national title aspirations. For Utah, it was a huge road win over a legitimate Pac-12 title contender.
The Utah gymnastics team gave the school their first Pac-12 title for any sport. The Utes took four of the five individual events in the conference championship meet in Berkeley, CA. The Utes took the title by getting the seventh best score in school history with 197.925.
The Red Rocks return a solid core, including national All Around contender Georgia "No Grips" Dabritz, and the Utes are, once again, chosen in the preseason to defend their conference title.