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Season debut 'embarrassing' for Mitchell

Kentucky won all the individual titles as well as the team competition Saturday.

But the 25th annual Excite Night — the Wildcats' name for season openers in women's gymnastics — nearly became Fright Night because of falls.

After a "Hollywood style" entrance — players emerging from a stretch limo, decked in sequined warm-ups and feather boas — UK whipped Utah State 191.50-187.15 in Memorial Coliseum.

Madison Central graduate Hillary Ferguson won the floor exercise, balance beam and overall titles, sharing first in vault with teammate Emily Green and placing third on uneven bars. The latter event was won by teammate Natalie Rubinstein, who scored 9.850 after missing all of last season because of injury.

Coach Mo Mitchell's assessment of the Cats?

"There were some high notes in there. But overall it was pretty disappointing. I think that's the worst score we've had in my six years here," he said. "We had uncharacteristic falls. ... We had seasoned upperclassmen making mistakes that they hadn't made in the two years they've been here."

Multiple Cats had falls on bar and beam.

"What we do is great, but we've just got to stay on the equipment," Mitchell said. "We've got to do what we do better. The skills are there, the difficulty's there, the team unity, the team chemistry is there. It just comes down to that: We stay on the equipment, we go 196."

Ferguson, a 5-foot-2 junior, was not among the fallers, topping teammate Andrea Mitchell (no relation to the coach) in the overall.

Ferguson's score of 39.275 was just shy of her best ever, 39.325. She tied her career best on beam (9.80) after opening on vault (9.875), then bars (9.70). She finished with a 9.90 on floor, setting the tone with her opening pass.

"It's a double layout and something I've been training for a long time," she said.

Her second pass, a change from last year's routine, has "been a lot more consistent," she said. "So just to be able to go out tonight and feel a lot of confidence, consistent was a really good feeling."

UK's Jasmine Minion, a sophomore from Memphis, had reason to be keyed up for the opener. She is a transfer from Utah State, where she was second-team All-Western Athletic Conference and an NCAA Regional qualifier on vault last year. She downplayed any rivalry with her former school, saying only that "it was good to see them this year." Vault was her best event Saturday (9.825, third place).

"It was good," she said. "Floor could have been better. Beam could have been better."

Ditto for most of the Cats.

"We've got to go back and clean up those mistakes," Mo Mitchell said. "It was embarrassing to come out here and do what we did today."

The Wildcats open Southeastern Conference competition Friday at Alabama. Although UK is 25th in national pre-season rankings, six SEC schools are ahead of the Cats.

"We go SEC for the next six weeks," Mo Mitchell said, "and you can't have a performance like this and expect to do anything in the SEC. And I guarantee we won't have a performance like this again."

Kentucky 191.50, Utah State 187.15

Overall — Hillary Ferguson (UK) 39.275; Andrea Mitchell (UK) 38.575; Heather Heinrich (USU) 37.575.

Vault — UK 49.100; USU 47.550. Ferguson (UK) and Emily Green (UK) 9.875; Jasmine Minion (UK) 9.825.

Uneven bars — USU 47.550; UK 47.125. Natalie Rubinstein (UK) 9.850; Nicole Simoneau (USU) 9.750; Ferguson (UK) 9.700.

Balance beam — UK 46.475, USU 46.15. Ferguson (UK) 9.80; Heather Hite (UK) 9.725; Rebecca Holliday (USU) 9.625.

Floor exercise — UK 48.45, USU 46.475. Ferguson (UK) 9.90; Hite (UK) 9.825; Mitchell (UK) 9.750.

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