Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
LSU downs Arkansas for second time this year
FAYETTEVILLE — The No. 6 Arkansas Razorbacks bumped up their team score by nearly three-tenths of a point on Friday, but No. 5 LSU did them one better by doubling their improvement from a week ago.
The Tigers surpassed their score from last week’s opener against the University of Arkansas by nearly seventh-tenths of a point to soar past the 197 mark.
Led by freshman Haleigh Bryant’s event-winning 39.6 in the all-around, LSU powered past the University of Arkansas 197.275 to 196.626 before a crowd of 1,241 at Barnhill Arena.
The Tigers (2-0) swept the season-opening series against Arkansas by winning their 21st consecutive meet against the Razorbacks.
LSU seized command at the halfway point after the Razorbacks struggled on the uneven bars.
Maggie O’Hara posted a career-high 9.95 with a perfectly landed dismount to win the event in the anchor spot, but the big routine came after teammates Gillian Rutz and Kennedy Hambrick came off the bars en route to a team score of 48.65 on the apparatus.
The Tigers led by more than 0.7 at that stage and finished up with solid 49.375s on both the floor exercise and the balance beam.
The Razorbacks closed the evening with a 49.5 on the floor, with Sarah Shaffer, Bailey Lovett and Kennedy Hambrick posting consecutive 9.9s before Sophia Carter brought down the house with a 9.925.
“There were definitely some highs and lows,” Arkansas Coach Jordyn Wieber said. “That floor rotation, I told the team before we went, ‘We’ve got to light it up. We’ve got to finish strong and do what we know we can do and they delivered. I was really proud of that.”
Bryant tied for the floor title with teammate Kiya Johnson with 9.95s in the last two spots.
Bryant’s 39.6 in the all-around is the second-highest score in the country thus far. Shaffer placed second in the all-around 39.525 with three 9.9s and a 9.825, ahead of Johnson (who came off the beam), and Hambrick.
The Tigers took an early lead with a 49.425 on the uneven bars, while the Razorbacks were scoring 49.15 on the vault. No LSU gymnasts scored lower than 9.825 on the bars, with Alyona Shchennikova leading the way at 9.925.
Hambrick paced the Razorbacks with a 9.9 in the anchor position on the vault.
O’Hara, a graduate transfer from Michigan, had a huge home debut with a career-best 9.925 to give her two event titles on the night.
Wieber said she was pleased with the team’s response to the twin falls.
“We obviously had to count a fall on bars and had a couple of other falls,” she said. “But what I was really proud of is the way our team had each other’s back and didn’t let one mistake turn into three or four.
“We’ve obviously got work to do, but our score was still almost three-tenths better than last week, which is a really positive thing. I think that shows we’ve really worked on landings and handstands and they picked up those extra tenths in other places and we’ve just got to be a little more consistent and get a few people a little healthier too.”
Arkansas junior Amanda Elsworth did not compete due to a right ankle injury suffered in practice this week, and sophomore all-around Kiara Gianfagna competed on just the bars, posting a 9.875.
The Razorbacks are back in action next Friday against No. 1 Florida at Barnhill Arena.
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