Sara Shipley (left) hits for a career-high on uneven bars with a 9.8. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
There's no denying that the Southeastern Conference is one of the top conferences in collegiate gymnastics. As far as Kentucky's opponents go over the last two weeks, the UK gymnastics team is facing a murderer's row in a recent and upcoming stretch of SEC matchups. Last week it was two-time defending champions and No. 5 Alabama. Friday night, Kentucky went toe-to-toe with No. 6 LSU.
Though the Wildcats fell to the Tigers, 195.875-195.25, and head coach Tim Garrison doesn't believe in moral victories, Friday night's performance exhibited great potential for just how good this team could be later in the season.
"Obviously, we're disappointed in the outcome tonight, but there's a lot to be encouraged about," said Garrison. "I keep saying it and I can't wait to see it."
While Garrison continues to seek the consistency on the competition floor that his team brings in the practice gymnasium every day, he has seen that steadiness in junior Audrey Harrison. The junior earned her second all-around title in the last three weeks and third of the season with a 39.225, tying LSU's first-team All-American Rheagan Courville.
Harrison earned her second all-around title of the season at Excite Night when UK knocked off Arkansas, and she's been a model of consistency for the Wildcats all season long.
She proved it again against LSU with a career high 9.85 on beam and tied a season-high on her floor-exercise routine.
Harrison was encouraged by her team's effort Friday night as the Wildcats bounced back with a 195-plus score after earning a 194.8 at Alabama. She, like Garrison, sees the performance for what UK could be if the Cats clean things up.
"I'm proud of what we did tonight," said Harrison. "We had mistakes that were not usual for us. It was rare to see those things happen. It kind of gives us hope for the future because we know those things can be fixed."
Kentucky's ability to keep its composure was particularly impressive as UK bounced back on beam and floor despite a couple of tough breaks. The Wildcats started off strong on the vault with a team score of 48.825 highlighted by sophomore Shelby Hilton's career-high 9.875 to conclude the event.
The Wildcats then went to the uneven bars, an event that UK had seen much success in so far this season. Two costly mistakes wounded the Cats, however, and Kentucky was forced to count a fall in the event to knock the team score down to 48.500.
The Cats had no way of knowing at the time, but as UK finished up strong and LSU stumbled a bit down the stretch, the mistakes made on the bars potentially kept the Wildcats from picking up an upset victory over the talented LSU Tigers.
"(If) We hit that event right there, we're right there neck and neck," said Garrison. "Then we start putting on a little bit of pressure because we're so close, but you never can tell what will happen."
Garrison knows that his team is athletically capable of performing at a high level. His athletes pull off their routines daily in the practice gym. He's hopeful that as the gymnasts get more and more exposure to competitive atmospheres that those routines will manifest themselves in meets.
"I don't see these kinds of things that I saw on bars today in the gym," said Garrison. "I don't see the things we saw in vault today in the gym.
"I thought beam was great. I thought floor was great with a couple of little minor things. The last floor athletes that went really performed well. So we're real close. We're really, really close. We just haven't crossed the bridge yet."
The second half of the meet was much more encouraging as UK bounced back in a big way with performances on beam and floor.
Trailing 98.050-97.325 at the midway point, Kentucky looked to the beam to get back on track.
Junior Kayla Sienkowski led the event off with a career-high-tying 9.825. Harrison then earned the highest score of the night on the beam for UK with a career-high 9.85. To top it off, sophomore Sara Shipley earned her second career-high performance of the night with a 9.8 to pair with a 9.8 on the uneven bars. UK would finish beam with its highest score of the night, a 48.975.
Kentucky had a huge hill to climb to earn the victory heading into the floor event. The Wildcats were solid there, including sophomore Kenzie Hedges' season-high-tying 9.825. Harrison tied her season high with a 9.85 and junior Kayla Hartley finished the night off with a 9.775 as UK ended the event with a 48.95.
LSU clinched the meet, however, with a 48.750 that was enough to hold off UK's late rally.
Though Kentucky dropped its second straight meet for its third loss of the season, the Cats are back on the right track. In fact, Garrison was so encouraged by what he saw Friday night that he's willing to call his team one of the best in the country. If Kentucky gets it together soon, the rest of the SEC better take notice.
"We're an excellent team," said Garrison. "We're just not hitting like an excellent team. As we get more confident and start believing in that fact, then we'll be perform better, and when we perform better, we'll be able to hang with a lot of people in this conference and in the country.
"Watch out because we're going to be a force to be reckoned with, no doubt."
The UK gymnastics team has picked each other up in crucial situations in the early part of 2013. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
Gymnastics, by nature, is a very individual sport. In each event, the athlete competes alone on bars, vault, floor and beam.
After each individual performance, gymnasts are judged and awarded a score. And that's that. On to the next event.
The UK gymnastics team has had some incredible individual athletes over the years, most notably Jenny Hansen, who holds program records for high scores in each individual event.
Junior all-around performer Audrey Harrison etched her name into the record books last weekend at Excite Night at the Kentucky Classic when she became just the 12th Wildcat to record a 9.9 on the uneven bars.
That 9.9 score, however, was crucial for Kentucky against No. 9 Arkansas. Harrison, currently Kentucky's lone all-around performer, anchored the uneven bars as the sixth and final gymnast to compete for UK. The preceding gymnasts had difficulties in their routines.
Arkansas had already scored a 48.350 after having a few mistakes of its own. After a misstep from Kayla Sienkowski, Kayla Hartley, Shelby Hilton and Alexis Gross each came to the rescue with solid performances and needed one more strong effort from their all-around ace. On each event, the top five scores are counted toward the overall meet total. With good scores from Hartley, Hilton and Gross to go with Sara Shipley's 9.8 to open the event, Harrison could erase her Sienkowski's slipup.
Harrison, as she's done all season, came through in the clutch.
She breezed through her routine nearly flawlessly. She could feel that something special was in the making. She made the final release into her dismount and stuck the landing.
While it was a special performance for Harrison, it was a momentum builder for the team. She had just helped Kentucky clinch its second event of the night after winning vault. But most importantly, she picked up her teammates when they needed her most.
"She hit that 9.9 bar routine like we needed and she finishes up events that we need her to step up on," said sophomore Alexis Gross of Harrison. "After (Sienkowski) fell, I had a bit of a rocky bar routine, and she went out there and hit that 9.9, and that stuff shows how mentally strong our juniors are."
On some of Kentucky's less successful teams in the past, athletes may have been more concerned about individual success during team struggles. This year's team puts the collective unit first and worries about personal success only with the intent of improving the team.
That's what Kentucky's early-season success has been all about. The team has been far from flawless, as head coach Tim Garrison is waiting for UK's breakthrough performance when the Wildcats put an entire meet together, but they have done a fantastic job of picking up the pieces for one another when things go awry.
They have been doing that since the first meet of the season when they traveled to California-Berkeley. When the normally sure-footed sophomore Shannon Mitchell fell off the beam, her teammates came to the rescue to cancel out her score.
"Shannon never falls on beam," said Gross. "Most of us looked at it and said, 'OK, now we have to step up for her.' When I made my routine, I told her, 'This one's for you.' "
And the Wildcats have been picking each other up ever since.
"From day one, you learn that," said Gross. "Five scores count, so if someone falls, everyone needs to pick up the slack as a team.
"It's not about individuals anymore when you get to college. It's about getting the best score for the team. It's just something that's ingrained in your brain."
While each individual event may only be performed by one athlete, the pressure of earning a perfect score is lifted when dependable and talented teammates surround one another other like they do for this team. And they never really know who it's going to be from week-to-week because, in reality, it could be and has been anyone.
Though Mitchell fell in the first meet at California-Berkeley, her performances against Arkansas left some of the best impressions of the night.
Mitchell stuck a high-score of 9.825 on the beam last Friday in her specialty event. She then turned around and gave a career performance on the floor with another 9.825 that led to her being awarded two team awards by Garrison for outstanding performances in each event.
"It was a lot of fun," said Mitchell. "I love showing my routine off on floor. On beam, I knew I just had to get up there and be confident."
Oh, and Mitchell is a walk-on.
Mitchell is a part of one Kentucky's greatest strengths that allows UK to be so versatile yet selective. It's been UK's strength in numbers that has allowed it to get off to its best start in program history.
"We have a lot more depth than last year," said Mitchell. "We know that if someone goes down, which we hope doesn't happen, we know that we have the seventh spot to step up and be strong."
This team, this collection of individuals, is a tight-knit group that performs for each of its members. The Cats perform and compete for the betterment of this UK gymnastics team. And you just never know where or when you're going to get a key contribution in the lineup.
That's mostly because it is hard to pick from a pool of 12. Garrison is using 12 different gymnasts in his lineup. Arkansas, by comparison, only used 10 on Friday night.
"It's all about you coming here and you do the best you can," said Garrison. "You win the job and it's yours. They're made aware of it very, very early. As a matter of fact, they're made aware of it in the recruiting process."
Scholarship or walk-on. Freshman or junior (UK has no seniors, which makes this team's start all the more impressive). If you're one of the six best in the gym, you're going to perform in that event no matter who you are.
Kentucky currently has 10 scholarship athletes. Garrison carries five walk-ons. Currently, three of those walk-ons hold a total of five lineup spots.
Perhaps the best example of Garrison's philosophy was displayed against Arkansas when freshman Marissa Beucler made her collegiate debut on beam. A January enrollee, Beucler had just been ruled eligible the day before the meet. When Friday rolled around, it was Beucler on the beam delivering a 9.825, which tied her with Mitchell for the team's high score in the event.
It was an impressive debut for an athlete who was facing the bright lights for the first time in her collegiate career.
"Down there on the floor with all these people watching, the first time after everything she's dealt with, she hit her set when she had to," said Garrison. "I think she's going to work her way into more lineups. There's no doubt about that."
As the competition builds in practice to earn spots in Kentucky's seemingly stacked lineup, some will see their roles increase, while others will see them diminish.
Gross, who was often an all-around performer last season due to small numbers and team needs, has focused mostly on beam and uneven bars this season. Now she is needed in a different capacity.
Though she continues to strive to be an all-around performer again someday, Gross, not to mention the rest of the team, is on board with letting the best six compete as long as the team keeps improving and winning.
"To be honest, that's the greatest thing," said Gross. "Last year, we had a smaller team. I did all-around and stuff like that was necessary to pick up the slack. This year, we can put our best six out there and I know that those are the best six people in each event."
Men's basketball - Following its most complete victory of the season within SEC action, the Wildcats conclude its two-game road swing through the Heart of Dixie at Alabama on Tuesday. - Sophomore Kyle Wiltjer turned in another 17-point performance, while classmate Ryan Harrow reached double figures for the eighth straight game and dished out a UK career-high eight assists in the win. Freshman Nerlens Noel continued his imposing defensive prowess with a career-high seven blocks to couple with 10 points and nine rebounds. - Alabama enters the matchup following a one-point victory over Texas A&M on Saturday. The Anthony Grant-led Crimson Tide are 11-6 overall on the season and own a 3-1 record within SEC play.
Women's basketball - No. 5 Kentucky improved to 18-1 overall, 6-0 in the SEC with commanding wins over Mississippi State and Auburn last week in Memorial Coliseum. The Cats are now riding a school-record 33-game home winning streak and the nation's longest overall winning streak at 17. - The 100-47 win over Mississippi State was the largest margin of victory over an SEC opponent in school history. Junior center DeNesha Stallworth led four players in double digits with a UK career-high 25 points in just 24 minutes of action. Senior All-America candidate A'dia Mathies followed with 21 points. UK forced 25 turnovers and won the rebounding battle 46-20. - In UK's "We Back Pat" game vs. Auburn, defense was again the name of the game. The Wildcats held the Tigers to just 21 first half points, taking a 51-21 lead at the break. Mathies led the way with 16 points in the opening stanza. She went on to notch her second straight 20-point game with a season-high 24 points on a near perfect shooting night. Mathies hit 8-of-9 from the field, including 5-of-6 from the 3-point line and 3-of-4 from the charity stripe. Gymnastics - The No. 14 University of Kentucky gymnastics team defeated No. 9 Arkansas in convincing fashion in front of more than 5,600 fans inside Memorial Coliseum on Friday. - The Wildcats took the meet 195.5-193.075 while winning every team and individual event. - The Wildcats continued the unprecedented start to the season as Friday's win gave the program back-to-back SEC wins for the first time ever. All four wins this season have come against higher-ranked opponents. - Kentucky is off to the best start in school history as the Wildcats have never before topped 195 in all three meets to begin the season. - Audrey Harrison stole the Excite Night at the Kentucky Classic show winning the individual all-around competition for the second consecutive week. The Knoxville, Tenn., native's season high 39.275 was highlighted by her 9.9 to anchor on uneven bars with a score, which ties for her career high. - Harrison won individual titles on bars and floor exercise (9.85). The junior now has four event titles this year and 11 all-time.
Rifle - Kentucky knocked off two top-15 teams over the weekend in Oxford, Miss., defeating No. 11 Ole Miss (4670 - 4611) on Saturday and No. 10 Memphis (4646 - 4598) on Sunday. - Senior Heather Greathouse led the Wildcats in their win over Ole Miss, shooting an 1176 aggregate score. Freshman Connor Davis delivered a 594 in air rifle. - Senior Ed Ryznar had a strong showing in Kentucky's win over Memphis, shooting a 574 in smallbore and 588 in air rifle. - Sophomore Cody Manning recorded a new personal best aggregate score of 1162 in Sunday's match with Memphis.
Men's tennis - The Kentucky men's tennis team got off to a 2-0 start to the 2013 season with two 7-0 wins over Northern Kentucky and Morehead State. - The pair of wins were the first in the head coaching career of Cedric Kauffmann. - No. 15 Tom Jomby and No. 94 Anthony Rossi each earned singles wins on Sunday, while Jomby and Kevin Lai went 2-0 on the day in doubles. - UK next takes to the court on Wednesday at No. 22 Indiana in Bloomington for the Wildcats first of 15 matches versus ranked teams in 2013.
Women's tennis - The Kentucky women's tennis team opened the 2013 season with two dominating wins, defeating Morehead State 7-0 and Belmont 6-1 on Saturday. - Freshman Nadia Ravita opened her collegiate career with two singles wins in the No. 1 spot and two doubles wins paired with junior Caitlin McGraw in the No. 1 doubles slot. - Sophomore Stephanie Fox failed to drop a set in two singles wins on Saturday, taking both contests 6-0, 6-0.
Tuesday, Jan. 22 Men's basketball at Alabama - 9:00 p.m.
Wednesday, Jan. 23 Men's tennis at Indiana - 2:00 p.m.
Thursday, Jan. 24 Women's basketball at South Carolina - 7:00 p.m.
Friday, Jan. 25 Track and field hosts Rod McCravy Memorial - 10:00 a.m. Men's tennis hosts Michigan State - 1:00 p.m. Gymnastics at Alabama - 8:30 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 26 Track and field hosts Rod McCravy Memorial - 10:00 a.m. Swimming and diving host Louisville - 12:30 p.m. Men's basketball hosts LSU - 4:00 p.m. Men's tennis hosts Texas/South Carolina
Audrey Harrison earned the all-around title in Friday's 195.5-193.075 victory over Arkansas. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Last weekend, the No. 14 ranked Kentucky gymnastics team did something it had not done since 1996 when it defeated Auburn. This weekend, Kentucky pulled off a feat it had never accomplished at all.
With last weekend's victory over No. 13 Auburn and Friday night's win over No. 9 Arkansas, Kentucky won back-to-back Southeastern Conference dual meets for the first time in the history of UK gymnastics.
The historic win came in Kentucky's home opener, Excite Night at the Kentucky Classic. The night started with an elaborate flame show and the Wildcats remained hot throughout the competition defeating the Razorbacks, 195.500-193.075.
"I think any time you can get a win, especially back-to-back wins in the SEC, you don't take it for granted," said Garrison. "They're hard to come by in this conference. It's the toughest gymnastics conference in the country."
Despite competing in the aforementioned "toughest conference in the country," UK is now 3-0 in against conference opponents and is continuing on a record pace for the program. However, Kentucky was far from perfect Friday night.
The Wildcats got off to a very slow start in the meet in front a jam-packed Memorial Coliseum on the vault, but Kenzie Hedges and Holly Cunningham put up two huge performances to save the event, scoring 9.8 and 9.825 respectively to close out the vault with a team score of 48.75.
The momentum picked up from there.
As UK shifted to the uneven bars, the Wildcats grabbed a stranglehold of the meet that they would not relinquish.
Kayla Sienkowski got things started with a strong 9.8 to lead off the uneven bars, but things got dicey when Shannon Mitchell broke her routine and finished with a 9.1. The team rallied behind her and put up solid scores. When it became Audrey Harrison's turn on the bars, she was prepared to deliver the most special performance of the night.
"When I'm going through my routine, I get kind of excited as I'm doing it," said Harrison. "It felt really great. It's one of my favorite feelings hitting a routine, so I was really excited."
The routine earned her a career- and season-high-tying 9.9 for the event as she stuck the landing. It was the jolt that Kentucky needed that carried UK the rest of the way as UK had beaten Arkansas each of the first two events.
From there, the Cats put up their best event score of the evening on the beam, earning a 49.0 that was highlighted by Shannon Mitchell and Marissa Beucler's 9.825 scores that they posted back-to-back.
The 9.825 for Mitchell was a career best on the beam. For Beucler, Friday night was the first meet that she had competed in all season. It was a great start out of the gate for freshman in her lone event of the competition.
The Wildcats had a comfortable lead heading into the floor event with a chance to clinch the meet. Mitchell followed up her beam performance with the second-best floor performance of the night, earning a career-high 9.825. And as she had done all evening, Harrison followed Mitchell with the best score in the floor event with a season-high 9.85.
With both teams completing their final events, Kentucky had defeated Arkansas on the beam, 49.0-48.675 while also taking the floor event, 195.5-144.4. The wins in the last two events capped off a sweep of all four events over the-ninth ranked team in the country.
Harrison walked away with the all-around individual victory scoring 39.275. She knew that she had performed well on the evening, but even she didn't expect the final result.
"It was exciting because I didn't add up my scores or anything," said Harrison. "It was surprising but really exciting too."
Harrison's performance was much welcomed as she stepped up in the clutch while some of her other teammates made mistakes along the way. Her steady performance helped carry the Cats to the signature victory.
"Audrey doesn't have too many events that are just big and flashy," said Garrison. "She's getting pretty flashy on bars, which is great to see because she's had it in her and now it's finally coming out.
"She's just steady on the other events. She just goes out there and does her stuff. She's cute, she smiles, the crowd loves her, and we'll take it every time."
Kentucky did not set a record for its highest score Friday night. In fact, it was only their second-highest meet score of the season. But it was an important performance nonetheless. Garrison knows, however, that there is still plenty of room for improvement.
"We could have done a lot of things better," said Garrison. "Are we happy? Yes. But as I keep saying, this team is better than we're performing right now. We have a ways to go, but I feel that we're going to get there."
Garrison has made sure to continue to hammer away the fact that his team just needs to worry about itself and everything else will fall into place. Despite some errors, UK was resilient and stuck to the game plan only to later make history once again.
"We don't set out to break those records," said Garrison. "We set out to do well and get better every week. That's what we're doing and I think the records are a product of that instead of the flipside."
With just a day between a women's basketball game and gymnastics' first home meet of 2013, Kentucky's event staff had little time to turn Memorial Coliseum from a basketball venue to one that would host Excite Night at the Kentucky Classic. Take a look at this video time lapse to see how they got it done.
Audrey Harrison looks to build on her strong start to the 2013 season. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Kentucky gymnasts are not worried about the past. Nor should they be. After two impressive performances to start the 2013 season, the future is looking mighty bright.
The No. 14-ranked UK gymnastics team is on a historic pace. Kentucky's season opening score of 195.125 at California-Berkeley was the highest season-opening score in program history. The Wildcats took down the No. 13 and No. 19 teams in the country that weekend.
Last weekend, Kentucky did something it had not done since 1999. Facing Southeastern Conference foe Auburn for the second consecutive weekend, UK ran its record to 2-0 against the Tigers for the season and picked up their first SEC road win since the 1999 season.
Just two meets in with their third slated for Friday night's Excite Night at the Kentucky Classic and Kentucky is already rewriting program record books.
The athletes are enjoying it every step of the way. Breaking records and snapping streaks are not what the Cats set out for, but when they do, they embrace their success. Typically, however, they simply just go out and take care of business. What happens as a result is all gravy.
"We don't really factor in the history," said junior Kayla Hartley. "Really, we just do what we do. If we keep doing that, we're going to keep breaking more records."
Hartley is one of four juniors, the veterans on a team with no competing seniors and 11 sophomores and freshmen. On the floor, she's been one of the shining stars of the first two meets. She earned a career-high in the floor exercise at Cal-Berkeley with a 9.9. She performed another career-high routine on the uneven bars with a 9.75.
As she and her teammates continue to put up career numbers, the confidence, in both themselves and in one another, continues to grow.
"It's really exciting," said Hartley. "For me personally, just knowing where that hard work is coming from and it's paying off. Just to see the other girls achieve their goals and to see all their hard work during the preseason and in summer and everything to come together has been great."
The career-high numbers were bound to come. Kentucky boasts a youthful team with little experience. Even the juniors, who have spent two seasons competing in college, are finally getting comfortable with performing at an SEC level.
While Kentucky has seen its ranking jump from preseason No. 25 up 11 spots to No. 14, there is still plenty of room for improvement. That may not have been the case for past UK gymnastics teams, but this one is shooting for the stars.
"Even though we've been doing so well, I feel like we can do much better than we have been doing," said junior Audrey Harrison. "I'm excited for the rest of the season because I think we'll get even higher scores at every meet."
Harrison has seen that happen so far in each of the first two meets, specifically at Auburn when she earned a 39.2 to win the all-around competition with a 9.775 on the uneven bars, 9.8 on both the vault and balance beam, and a 9.85 on floor exercise.
Last year, in head coach Tim Garrison's first season, the team didn't know what to expect as the athletes and coaches were still working to learn more about each other. Last season, Kentucky hoped to do well. This season, doing well is an expectation.
"We were expecting to do well or even better than what we did because we practice so hard," said Harrison. "We do a lot of pressure sets in the gym so we know we can hit, so we expect to hit at the meets."
Performing under pressure was particularly hard last season considering UK's youth. Still a young team this season, the Cats have much more experience under their belts.
That experience, particularly considering schedule that Kentucky faces going up against the elite teams the SEC has to offer, has helped UK become what it is today. While Garrison and his staff try their best to replicate the pressure and simulate a competitive atmosphere, nothing can match the experience gained by performing where the lights shine the brightest.
"It's the experience of competing in front of the crowds and the fans and all the nerves that come with competing," said Hartley. "We can simulate it in the gym, but once you get out on the main floor, it's still different. Also, experience with knowing that you can do it inside the practice gym and taking it out onto the competition floor as well."
The practice sessions have certainly helped though. Both Hartley and Harrison harped on the fact that this team came into the season more prepared than in any in the past. Summer and preseason workouts with purpose and precision have led to results. But it's also been the competitive nature of the workouts that have brought out the best in one another.
With the depth as great as it's been in the UK gymnastics program in some time, the competitive spirit shows up not only on the day of the meet, but also in the practice gym. With starting lineup spots up for grabs, everyone is giving their best efforts, and it's making the team that much better.
"The competition within each other is developing big time," said Hartley. "I've noticed it this year so much more than any year that I've been here. You can tell that people want the lineup spots this year and we're fighting for them."
As Kentucky continues to progress through the early stages of its 2013 schedule, it will need to continue to build on what they bring each week. Garrison has made it a point of emphasis for his team to be as consistent as possible to pick up some of the tenths of points he thinks his team is leaving out on the floor.
Kentucky has the chance to take down another ranked opponent Friday night when the Cats welcome SEC opponent and No. 9 ranked Arkansas to Lexington, Ky. In seasons past Hartley may have looked at Arkansas and been overwhelmed by her completion. These days the emphasis on Kentucky.
"I just take care of what I need to do," said Hartley. "I don't really pay attention to who I'm competing against. I just do what I need to do and do it for the team and hope for the best."
Kentucky continues to look ahead to where they can go without spending much time on what they've done in the past. Though the Cats need to understand the mistakes they've made in their first two meets, their main focus is on how to correct them in the future. With a great emphasis on consistency, the Wildcats feel like they still have room to grow.
"We just have to keep doing what we're doing and not give away any tenths by sticking landings and tight knees," said Harrison. "Just keep doing that and we'll get better every meet."
On Friday at 7 p.m., the No. 14 Kentucky gymnastics team opens its home schedule with an "Excite Night" meet against Arkansas in Memorial Coliseum. Here's the video that will be shown to introduce the Wildcats.
Men's basketball • Kentucky dropped its first SEC home opener in the John Calipari era to the hot-shooting Texas A&M Aggies behind a 40-point effort from Elston Turner on Saturday. • UK freshman Nerlens Noel had his best game in the blue and white with 15 points, 11 rebounds, seven blocks, six assists and four steals. He's the first player in the NCAA to put up those numbers in a single game since 1996-97. • Sophomore Ryan Harrow scored in double-figures in the sixth-straight game with 14 points, while freshman Archie Goodwin led the squad with 17 points. Women's basketball • No. 6/6 Kentucky improved to 16-1 overall, 4-0 in the SEC and increased its school-record winning streak to 15 after hard-fought wins over the league's newest members No. 20/21 Texas A&M (65-52) and Missouri (69-43) last week. • Against the Aggies, the Wildcats rallied from a six-point half time deficit, using its tenacious defense along with the hot shooting of reigning SEC Player of the Year A'dia Mathies and redshirt sophomore point guard Jennifer O'Neill. Mathies hit three of her four 3-pointers in the second half for 11 of her season-high 23 points, while O'Neill added 15 points and a career-high eight assists in the win. • The Cats traveled to Missouri for the first time in program history on Sunday and again, it was their pressure defense that sealed the victory and snapped the Tigers' 11-game home winning streak. The Tigers, who came into the game leading the nation in 3-pointers made per game with 9.9, were limited to a season-low two 3-pointers. UK also held Missouri's Morgan Eye, the nation's leading 3-point shooter, to just six points and zero treys for the first time this season.
Gymnastics • The University of Kentucky gymnastics team performed solidly on all four events to gather an overall team score of 195.525, in a win at Auburn on Friday night. • The win was Kentucky's first SEC road victory in a dual meet since 1999, and the first SEC season-opening win since 2008. • The Wildcats are off to the best start in school history as they've compiled two straight scores more than 195 to begin a season for the first time ever. • Junior Audrey Harrison posted a 39.2 to win her first career SEC dual all-around competition, and her fifth career all-around title. • Overall, Kentucky earned 13 season or career-high scores in the meet. Rifle • The Kentucky rifle team won its first match of the spring Sunday with a 4705 - 4687 victory over No. 4 Alaska-Fairbanks. • Senior Henri Junghänel led the Wildcats with an aggregate score of 1184, delivering a 590 in smallbore to go along with a 594 in air rifle. • The Wildcats had a strong showing across the board in air rifle with all six shooters breaking the 590 barrier.
Track and field • Bradley Szypka, Cally Macumber and Darryl Bradshaw dazzled the home crowd in Nutter Field House as all three took event titles on Saturday at the Kentucky Invitational, the Wildcats' first home meet of the season. • Szypka won the shot put for the second consecutive meet with a personal record of 18:36m/60-03.0, which came on his final throw. The mark gave him the No. 4 shot put in the nation this season as of Saturday evening. • Macumber won the mile in PR time of 4:42.30, as she pulled away from the field, which included two unattached runners who competed in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials at 800 meters. • The cross country All-American's time - in her first run of the indoor season - currently ranks as second-fastest mile in the country this season. • Bradshaw won the men's 60-meter hurdles in 8:07, while Brandon Bagley took fifth in the event with a time of 8.24. • Kadeem Kushimo also turned in a PR time of 47.85 in the 400m, which was the best run by a collegiate competitor in the event. The sophomore finished second overall. Upcoming schedule
Kayla Hartley picked up her fourth-career victory on the floor at California-Berkeley. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
The No. 25 Kentucky gymnastics team achieved a program-best season-opening score in its meet at California-Berkeley last weekend. Several gymnasts earned career-high scores on the way to a second-place finish, scoring 195.125 while defeating the No. 13 and No. 19 teams in the country.
Head coach Tim Garrison thinks his team has only scratched the surface.
Despite the early success, the meet was far from perfect. Garrison said his team made uncharacteristic, head-scratching mistakes. Mistakes that head he had never seen some of his athletes make before. They even had to count a fault in their final score.
With all of those mishaps, Kentucky still managed to record its highest season-opening score ever to finish second behind Cal, while defeating No. 13 Auburn and No. 19 Arizona.
In all actuality, it was a huge day for the Wildcats as they started off with a bang. Garrison knows it. They're excited about their start with a strong foundation to build from the rest of the way.
"Well, going up against the No. 13 team, the No. 19 team and coming out ahead, that obviously makes us feel good," said Garrison.
He also knows that he and his athletes can't be satisfied. Not with what he witnesses in the practice gym on a daily basis.
Garrison and his staff have since gone back and watched each routine with each gymnast. They have looked at the mistakes to see where they can pick up a few extra tenths in their scores. Those points add up quickly if each athlete can correct one or two small mistakes in their routines.
If those mistakes can be corrected, more record-setting scores could follow.
"We broke down our routines from the meet and we talked about each little mistake that happened," said Garrison. "We watched video with the kids and talked about each little mistake, and the mistakes that we could get back and the tenths we could get back. And we're projecting scores that this program hasn't seen."
Garrison is excited, but it's tempered by a desire to see his team go from a good team to a potentially great one. There are points out there to be had and mistakes to be fixed. That potential is yet to be realized.
"Just seeing how much they've grown to this point and seeing what I see every day in practice," said Garrison. "I see hints of brilliance, but I don't see the finished package yet. I obviously didn't see it last weekend."
How does Garrison hope to get there? He needs to see consistency while his team builds confidence with experience. The head coach can only do so much in the gym, but the athletes will really start to make strides as they gain more competitive experience.
The environment of a meet is not replicable in the practice facility, no matter how hard they try to simulate it. As the season goes on, Garrison expects this team to continue to transform and could have a completely different identity by the end of the season.
That will all stem from experience. It's a young team with no seniors competing this season. They have five freshmen and five sophomores. Competitive experience will be the key ingredient the rest of the way.
"We need experience now," said Garrison. "But we need competitive experience which is not something I can give them until the season starts. That's why we're so happy that we're finally underway."
Despite the team's lack of experience, the first competition of the season showed the strides that this team has made from the end of last season. The offseason training and hard work certainly paid off.
Audrey Harrison, Kayla Hartley, Alexis Gross and Kayla Sienkowski all notched career highs in the opener.
"They had excellent routines," said Garrison. "I think that their confidence has grown because they worked their tails off in the summertime. They worked hard in the preseason, and now it's been validated."
Kentucky didn't have much time to dwell on the performance in California because the Cats had just two days of practice to get ready for a Southeastern Conference meet at Auburn. The Wildcats will take on the Tigers Friday at 8 p.m. ET for the second time in a week. That familiarity, though, means little when it comes to preparing for Friday's meet.
Kentucky is only concerned with itself.
"They're going to do what they do; we can't affect their performance," said Garrison of Auburn. "Do we have confidence going against them? I don't know. But we have confidence in ourselves, which is way more important as far as I'm concerned."
The meet at Auburn will give Kentucky another opportunity to get better against high-level competition. The Wildcats are where Garrison hoped they would be at this point in the season, but his high hopes are based on a projected high ceiling. If everything falls into place, this could be a special season.
"When you get in the gym and you start seeing what kind of athletes you have and what they're capable of, and whether they're coaching or not," said Garrison. "There are a lot of variables to it.
"A lot of it was up in the air. A lot of balls that you had to juggle and put in the right spots, and I think we're close to winning the lottery. I think we're close to the right spot. But there's obviously still a lot of work to do. But we're heading in the right direction, that's for sure."
Men's basketball - The Wildcats will open up conference play on the road for the fourth time in the last 10 years and the second time in the John Calipari era with a date at Vanderbilt on Thursday. UK defeated Eastern Michigan in dominating fashion to conclude non-conference action. - Freshman Alex Poythress had 16 points, sophomore Ryan Harrow passed out eight assists and freshman Willie Cauley-Stein had a double-double to lead the way. - Kentucky shot 51.7 percent against the Eagles marking the fifth time this season UK has eclipsed the 50 percent mark. UK is undefeated in those contests. - The Wildcats also secured a season-high 52 rebounds, and limited Eastern Michigan to 38 points and a 24.2 percent field-goal percentage which ranks as the fewest points and lowest percentage in the John Calipari era. Women's basketball - No. 6/6 Kentucky is 2-0 to start SEC play for the second straight season after wins over Florida and Alabama last week. In the Florida game, UK broke the school record for consecutive wins in a single season (12) and tied the school record for consecutive home wins (30) with a 76-69 win over the Gators. - Four players scored in double digits led by the reigning SEC Player of the Year A'dia Mathies' season-high 20 points against the Gators. She also dished out four assists and took a team-high four charges in the game. - The Cats then traveled to Tuscaloosa, Ala., for the their SEC road opener, picking up their 13th straight win with a hard-fought victory over Alabama 87-70. Five players broke into the double-digit scoring column and three Wildcats had double-figure rebounds. - Junior center DeNesha Stallworth got her second straight double-double with a game-high 19 points to go along with 10 rebounds in just 21 minutes of action. Mathies scored all 17 of her points in just 16 minutes of the second half, nailing a career-high-tying five 3-pointers.
Gymnastics - The No. 25 University of Kentucky gymnastics team notched the program's best-ever score at a season-opening meet on Sunday. The Wildcats totaled 195.125 to finish second in the quad meet behind Cal's 195.425. Arizona finished third (194.825) and Auburn was fourth (194.625). - Kentucky completed the afternoon with a total score more than 195 at the season's first meet for the first time in school history. The Wildcats also enjoyed a day of individual triumphs and firsts as Audrey Harrison set a career-high on uneven bars with a 9.9 to finish in a tie for first on the event. Kayla Hartley tied a career-high of 9.9 to win floor. Harrison's bars title was the first of her career in the event, while she also ran her career tally of individual titles to eight. Hartley now has four career individual titles, all on beam. - Alexis Gross set a career-high with a 9.875. Kayla Sienkowski and Hartley both also had career-performances as both picked up scores of 9.75. Sienkowski was competing on bars for the first time in her UK career. Shelby Hilton rounded out the action on bars with a 9.725.
Swimming and diving - Junior diver Greg Ferrucci picked up a win on the 3-meter springboard at the Tennessee Diving Invitational on Friday with a winning score of 410.85. - Junior swimmer Lucas Gerotto earned two wins at LSU Saturday. He picked up a win in the 100-backstroke finishing at 50.41. He also remained unbeaten in dual meets in the 100-butterfly with a winning time of 49.37.
Upcoming schedule Thursday, Jan. 10 Women's basketball hosts Texas A&M - 6:00 p.m. Men's basketball at Vanderbilt - 9:00 p.m. Friday, Jan. 11 Gymnastics at Auburn - 8:00 p.m. Track and field hosts Kentucky Invitational
Saturday, Jan. 12 Men's basketball hosts Texas A&M - 4:00 p.m. Track and field hosts Kentucky Invitational
Sunday, Jan. 13 Women's basketball at Missouri - 1:30 p.m. Rifle vs. Alaska-Fairbanks (Murray, Ky.)