Tom Murphy is a sports 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. He was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Florida holds off Arkansas in front of record crowd
Arkansas coach Jordyn Wieber watches Friday, Jan. 13, 2023, during the Razorbacks' meet with Alabama in Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas Razorbacks needed just a small dip from Florida on the always tricky balance beam on the final rotation to have a chance at a monumental gymnastics upset on Friday night.
The No. 2 Gators weren’t in a giving mood.
Spurred by Leanne Wong’s second 10 of the night, the Gators rebounded from a lapse on the floor exercise with a big beam run to hold off No. 18 Arkansas 197.875 to 197.4 before a school-record crowd of 11,031 at Walton Arena.
“Obviously with No. 2 Florida coming in here, it was going to be a tough meet to win, but it really did feel like a win for our team,” Arkansas Coach Jordyn Wieber said. “It’s a really positive step in the direction we need to be going in, and I think we proved that 197-plus is something we’re capable of, even when we’re not fully on at our best.
“We left a lot of landings out there tonight, especially on bars and beam so we can clearly see what we need to continue to work on to pick up a few extra tenths.”
The Razorbacks sold out Barnhill Arena for last week’s win over No. 8 LSU, then put up a record crowd in their second-ever meet at Walton.
“A huge highlight was another attendance record,” Wieber said. “Over 11,000 people. I’m just so excited the way fans are showing up for these athletes. That was amazing.”
Wong was the story, winning three events and helping produce a 49.6 on the balance beam. The Razorbacks went big on the floor exercise for the second week in a row, but their 49.475 could not keep pace in the last rotation.
Arkansas freshman Lauren Williams, whose floor routine is fast becoming a fan favorite, captured that event along with Florida’s Trinity Thomas with a personal best 9.95, tying for the fourth-best score in school history.
“Her performance quality is out of this world,” Wieber said. “She continues to prove that she is one of the best floor workers in the entire country.”
Arkansas freshman Frankie Price closed the meet with a 9.925 in the anchor spot on the floor and sophomore Maddie Jones led off with a 9.9.
Arkansas came close to matching last week’s school-record score of 197.475 by posting the third total of 197.4 or better in program history.
The Gators nearly had back-to-back flawless performances on the first rotation, with Wong notching a 10 right behind Thomas’ 9.975 on the uneven parallel bars. Those big scores and nearly all stuck dismounts helped Florida notch a 49.625 while Arkansas went 49.275 on the vault with nailed landings from Price (9.9) and Cami Weaver (9.875).
Florida did not stick its vault landings, but its skills were difficult enough that it still managed to gain another tenth of a point in the second rotation.
Arkansas’ bars lineup was paced by Jensen Scalzo’s 9.9, and no one scored lower than 9.825. The Razorbacks had virtually all stuck dismounts but a few technical deductions on the apparatus.
Florida led 99.025 to 98.575 at the halfway point.
After Arkansas opened with Kalxyta Gamaio’s 9.85, Kiara Gianfagna’s 9.9 and Cally Swaney’s 9.925 on the balance beam, the Razorbacks took a brief lead when Florida got off to a rough start on the floor exercise. The dip culminated when Victoria Nguyen stepped out of bounds after a tumbling pass in the third spot. However, the trio of Rachel Baumann, Wong and Thomas finished strong on the event and the Gators held a lead of 0.35 entering the last rotation.
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