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Gymnastics looks to ride floor momentum into home stretch

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Audrey Harrison has emerged as one of the nation's best on floor exercise in recent weeks. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Audrey Harrison has emerged as one of the nation's best on floor exercise in recent weeks. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
By most measures the Kentucky gymnastics team produced the best season in school history last year. The 2014 campaign hasn't quite lived up to the promise of the last campaign given that the Wildcats featured no seniors in 2013, but things have begun looking up of late.

This year's campaign has had its ups and downs, but the majority of the highs have occurred in the last month. The Wildcats have overcome some head-scratching early-season performances and righted the ship in recent weeks, reaching No. 24 in the most recent rankings formula.

As such, Tim Garrison's team is in prime position to make a nice stretch run, beginning with Friday's trip to top-ranked LSU, the regular-season finale.

The trip will be a test for the Wildcats, not just because they're heading into one of the most energetic settings in college gymnastics and taking on the No. 1 team in the country.

Kentucky, 9-9 on the season and 2-4 in Southeastern Conference competition, is coming off back-to-back home meets with scores of 196.000 or higher, which serves as a sort of threshold for the team towards the latter stages of the season. Basically the Wildcats target scores more than 196.

UK's two most recent wins were upsets of ranked teams, but they came inside Memorial Coliseum. From here on out road trips are in the cards. It goes LSU this week, the SEC Championships the next and very likely an NCAA regional shortly thereafter.

The Wildcats struggled early in the season on the road, but appeared to right the ship on a two-meet weekend in late February.

In fact, both Kentucky and LSU have steadily improved since they last faced off this season, on February 15 at the Metroplex Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas. Kentucky posted a 194.850, while LSU notched a then-school-record 197.875.

LSU went on to attain the No. 1 ranking in the ensuing weeks, while for their part the Wildcats began their current run of strong results from the next week on.

At the time, UK recorded two of its best three scores of the season during the road trip the week after the first showdown with LSU, a 195.975 at Arkansas and a 195.2 at Nebraska.

The Wildcats returned home the next week and knocked off No. 11 Auburn with the second-highest home score in school history, 196.275. To follow that big score on Feb. 28, the Wildcats downed No. 22 California and Centenary with a 196.150 last Friday for a Senior Night victory.

So Kentucky heads to LSU with momentum, and floor exercise has very much been the catalyst for the team's positive direction.

"On floor closing out the night (last Friday) I thought we had a great performance once again," Garrison said. "It seems we have gotten to the point where floor is rock-solid. We have the capability to score 49.400-49.600 every week on floor."

The Wildcats are ranked 16h nationally on floor with a 49.113 average, having scored more than a 49 at all but one meet this season, including a school-record 49.650 to clinch the win vs. Auburn.

Floor exercise has absolutely been a rock for the Wildcats, which is illustrated by the fact that Garrison has such lofty expectations for the team on that event.

And no one has been better on floor than senior Audrey Harrison, who  has won the event four times this season and has emerged as a near-lock to score over 9.9 on the event in recent weeks.

Entering the stretch run, the Wildcats will rely on Harrrison and the floor-exercise lineup more broadly to help elevate the team's performances and keep the momentum going.

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