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Kentucky gymnastics romps to victory in front of record Excite Night crowd

Excite Night 2019

No. 16 Kentucky gymnastics defeated No. 14 Arkansas Friday night in front of a record Excite Night crowd in Rupp Arena.
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No. 16 Kentucky gymnastics defeated No. 14 Arkansas Friday night in front of a record Excite Night crowd in Rupp Arena.

After a beam rotation that included two falls and put No. 16 Kentucky in danger of losing in front of a record Excite Night crowd in Rupp Arena Friday, senior Sidney Dukes and her gymnastics teammates knew what they had to do to pull out a victory over No. 14 Arkansas.

Just have fun.

“Last week, we had a couple of events where we were a little bit down and everyone was kind of feeling it, and then we were like, ‘OK, let’s go have fun,’” Dukes said of the team huddle ahead of the floor rotation, their final event of the evening. “‘Let’s go to our next event and just let everything go and just have a great time and just be a team together.’”

Not only did the Cats and their boisterous 12,472 fans have fun, UK also put together its sixth-best floor rotation of all time, a combined floor score of 49.375 buoyed by three consecutive 9.9s by Alex Hyland, Dukes and Mollie Korth.

Those scores helped UK pull away to a 195.275 to 193.875 win over the Razorbacks.

“When you get to the SECs, when we get to the regionals and super regionals (at the end of the season), you have to beat the other teams on the floor,” UK Coach Tim Garrison said. “So, it’s not so much about score, it’s about the win. And when (Arkansas) got it to two-and-a-half tenths going into that last rotation, the pressure was on.

“We had turn it on and we had to perform. It was absolutely critical for them to do what they did.”

UK got off to a solid start on vault (49.175), but lost some momentum on the uneven bars (48.950). Then, disaster struck on the balance beam (47.775), traditionally one of UK’s strongest events.

First up in the rotation, UK freshman Josie Angeny fell off the apparatus in the middle of her routine, resulting in an 8.850. The score was dropped, but a slip always puts more pressure on the following athletes. When senior anchor Alex Hyland, the 2017 SEC beam champion, fell during her set, it meant UK would have to count her heavily deducted 9.125.

Meanwhile, across the floor, Arkansas had its best rotation of the night, notching a 49.050 on floor and narrowing the overall gap to just two-and-a-half tenths of a point with one event left for each team. UK’s lowest score last week was on the floor, a 48.525. Arkansas had the beam, an event in which it’s averaged 49.038 so far this season.

Kentucky responded with it’s best rotation score of the 2019 season started by the solid experience of Katie Stuart with a 9.8 and bolstered by the return of sophomore Ella Warren from a nagging injury. She posted a 9.875 to set up the run of 9.9s by her teammates. Arkansas had two of its gymnasts uncharacteristically fall off the beam, ending its threat to the Cats.

“Coming and and closing it out the way we did was a huge positive for us,” Garrison said. “Going into next week’s meet that was a huge springboard forward for us.”

Korth scored 39.20 to win the all-around competition among seven competitors, four for UK and three for Arkansas, with scores of 9.9 on vault, 9.8 on bars, 9.6 on beam and 9.9 on floor. She edged out her teammate Dukes by 0.025 points.

UK’s Katie Stuart, Cally Nixon and Korth shared bar honors with 9.8s. Arkansas’ Kennedy Hambrick and Michaela Burton shared honors on beam with 9.8s, as well. And Hyland, Dukes and Korth shared the floor title with their 9.9s.

Next home meet

Auburn at Kentucky

When: 7 p.m. Feb. 1

Where: Memorial Coliseum