Perhaps the most difficult part of being the favorite to win the Southeastern Conference discus title is, well, being favored.
Witness Kentucky senior Andrew Evans, whose throw of 217-plus was the national leader coming into Saturday's meet in his home ring.
"You throw 217 feet, it's not that throw that's the good one," UK Coach Edrick Floreal said. "The most difficult throw is the one after that; it's the meet after that 217 feet. Because everybody expects you to do it."
Evans did as expected, throwing the discus 210-3 to edge the 209-1 turned in by Alabama freshman Hayden Reed.
"I'm really happy that Andrew was able to get it done with all the pressure," Floreal said. "Everybody was over there and they expected one thing: Andrew Evans to win the discus. And he fought off the demons and delivered the goods in a big way."
Not that it was easy.
Evans opened with a solid 198-8½ , but then fouled his second attempt and reached only 186-6½ on his third.
"It was a good start. It was a good 60-meter opener. And then struggled a little bit my next two throws," Evans said. "I took some practice throws before finals and tried to get my head together and they weren't even going well. So Coach just told me to go in there and just throw like I've been throwing, just let that feeling take over. So that's what I did and I hit those big finals throws and just kept building on them."
Evans improved to 201 on his fourth try, then uncorked his winner in the fifth round.
Evans also won the discus as a sophomore. UK throwers have won six of the last seven SEC discus titles, with one each by Chase Madison and Rashaud Scott, and two each by Evans and Colin Boevers.
Through six of 21 events, seventh-ranked Georgia leads No. 4 Arkansas 52-51 in the men's standings. Then come No. 11 Alabama, No. 2 Texas A&M and No. 19 Kentucky. Top-ranked Florida and No. 18 Ole Miss are tied for sixth.
Through nine women's finals, No. 8 Arkansas has 77 points to 54½ for No. 5 Georgia. Then come No. 13 Missouri and No. 1 Florida. No. 6 UK is in ninth place.
"We've got a lot of people in the finals," Floreal said. "But those are just point opportunities. You've still got to cash in on those points, so we're going to have a little chat and rally ourself together. Like I always say, character is not what happened, but it's what happens after you get your butt kicked. We lost some points but we're going to be OK. ... I think we're a contender, but we're not there yet. We've still got some stuff we've got to figure out. We've still got to get a little bit tougher, a little bit grittier."
Among those showing grit Saturday were 1,500-meter runners Allison Peare, Matt Hillenbrand and Keffri Neal.
Peare led women's qualifiers in 4:20.82.
"I saved a little bit. I raced yesterday (in the 800) and I raced today and I've got two tomorrow," Peare said. "So I'm just going to try as much as I can to get points for the team."
Then, Hillenbrand (3:56.66) and Neal (3:50.62) won their preliminary heats of the men's 1,500.
"Once again, like the 800, I just wanted to qualify, to make both finals tomorrow," Neal said. "I felt pretty good throughout the race, tried to keep it controlled and I felt good towards the end and just went for the win to make sure I qualified."
Hillenbrand won the slower, more tactical heat.
"I went out there and tried to expend as little energy as possible, and that's exactly what I did," he said. "The time was a little slow. It's nice to go with a little different strategy and see how it worked, and it worked pretty well."
In the women's 100-meter hurdles, both Kendra Harrison (12.89) and Kayla Parker (13.02) moved into Sunday's finals.
UK freshman Nick Anderson advanced in the men's 110-meter hurdles (13.92).
Juniors Dezerea Bryant (11.37) and Keilah Tyson (11.40) moved on to Sunday's finals in the women's 100.
"I felt pretty good," Bryant said. "I'm not really worried about the time. I'll have finals tomorrow, so not a big deal."
Arkansas had a pair of 1-2-3 sweeps.
Raymond Higgs led a Razorback cleanup in the men's long jump (26-0¾). Sandi Morris led a sweep in the women's pole vault (14-9).
Arkansas also won both steeplechase races, with Stanley Kebenei winning the men's race (8:40.98) and Grace Heymsfield defending her women's title (9:57.14).
Other women's winners were: Florida's Fawn Miller in the javelin; Missouri's Jill Rushin in the shot put; Mississippi State's Rochelle Farquharson in the long jump; and Georgia's Leontia Kallenou in the high jump.
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