This weekend was a chance for the second ranked Tigers to see how they measured up against the top ranked team in the nation. Unfortunately, that measurement came up a bit short.
The good news is, LSU scored a 197.700, which is a monster of a score. The bad news is, Oklahoma scored a 198.350, which is like Godzilla. Let’s try and put that score in perspective. Yes, it’s the highest score of the season, and Oklahoma’s third 198 or better score of the year, and second consecutive. Their previous high was a 198.075 against Auburn last week.
LSU and Florida have tied for the highest score of the season outside of Oklahoma, both with a 197.975. Yes, OU is the only team to have scored a 198 this year, and they have done it three times. Even that understates how great of a score 198.350 is.
The highest score in 2016? 198.175 by Florida. This is the highest score attained by any team in two years. But here’s where we get to the lesson of our little parable. In 2015, LSU scored a 198.375 as its team high, a school record. Oklahoma bested that as well, posting a season high of 198.500. Those are remarkable scores which showed how great those two teams were. Know who won the title that year?
This meet showed precisely what Oklahoma was capable of, and it is undeniably impressive. They are the number one team for a reason. But posting the season’s high score doesn’t mean jack once the postseason starts. It only matters how you perform in the Super Six. That’s what the goal is. It’s about peaking in April.
But let’s not write this loss off as totally meaningless either. This meet gives DD Breaux the roadmap to show her team precisely where they need to improve in order to catch OU. That answer is, well, pretty much everywhere.
I hate to say it, but LSU honestly lost this meet on the very first rotation. The one apparatus on which LSU stands on equal footing with the Sooners is the vault. Which means, in order to beat the Sooners, LSU likely needs a big vault score. I know “win the beam, win the meet”, and that still holds true, but LSU also needs to beat Oklahoma on the vault. That’s a place to pick up big points.
Instead, LSU scored a 49.375. Not a disaster by any means, and certainly good enough against anyone else in the country. Oklahoma is not anyone else. You need to be perfect. You need to gobble up every little point you can, and you certainly can’t leave the door open on your first rotation.
OU later would score a 49.450 on the vault. That was LSU’s opening. There was a chance to pick up points. Oklahoma is a conservative team. They do less ambitious routines, but perform them perfectly. It’s a ruthless, if kind of boring style. This is where LSU needs to go for its big numbers.
LSU scored a 49.300 on the bars, and at that point, the meet really was over. Oklahoma score a 99.300 on its first two rotations, while LSU was stuck in third behind Georgia at 98.750. LSU was having a very good meet at this point, Oklahoma was having a truly superlative one. LSU was in full chase mode, and if you are chasing the Sooners, you’re already dead.
Here’s the good news. LSU came through big time in the second half of the meet. OU kept up its blistering pace, scoring a 99.050 on its final two rotations, but LSU largely matched that performance. LSU scored a combined 99.025 on the beam and the floor.
Maybe if we reverse the order of events, the meet goes differently. If LSU puts up that second half performance against Oklahoma’s second half, maybe it transitions into some big scores on the vault and bars for LSU. Maybe not. But the path to beat OU is there. It’s difficult as all hell, but at least it’s there.
After a difficult loss like that, there’s a tendency for teams to have a letdown. No one would blame the Tigers if they took a moment to collect its collective breath on Sunday, competing just two days later after such an emotionally draining loss.
Given the short turnaround, Breaux juggled the lineup a bit. Gnat only competing on two rotations. Same with Hambrick. Edney took a bit of break and dropped the beam from her full slate. This was a chance to rediscover the team’s footing.
Consider it found. There was no letdown. LSU went out and obliterated Iowa and GW on Sunday, posting a season high 197.975. McKenna Kelly anchored the final floor rotation, and she scored a perfect 10 from one judge and a 9.95 from another. If that second judge doesn’t find a deduction, a perfect ten from the final competition slot would have elevated LSU to a 198. So it goes.
The best sign? Four of the six gymnasts on the first rotation, the vault, scored a 9.900 on higher. Message received.
This team has not peaked yet. Let’s not crown the Sooners the national champs just yet.