If Friday’s performance was Kiya Johnson on a bad Achilles tendon…
The LSU Junior All-American displayed perfection for the second time this season, posting a 10.0 on beam to put the exclamation mark on the No. 5-ranked Tigers’ 198.050-197.600 win over the Alabama No. 8 in front of a crowd of 11,498 in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
The victory pushed LSU’s record to 4-1 overall and 3-1 in the Southeastern Conference, allowing the Tigers to maintain a mathematical chance to tie for the SEC regular season title behind Florida. (6-0 in conference). The Crimson Tide, the defending winner of the SEC Championship, fell to 4-4 and 2-3.
Watch the performance below. Can’t see the video? Click here.
KIYA JOHNSON PERFECT 10 pic.twitter.com/nRddkG0Ajs
— LSU Gymnastics (@LSUgym) February 19, 2022
LSU finished second to Bama in last year’s championship game, one of a frustrating series of near misses for the Tigers in 2021. LSU was coming off a 198.150-197.825 loss to Florida, but with the 197.975-197.750 win over Auburn two weeks ago gives the Tigers an impressive three straight total scores. It was LSU’s first time breaking the highly sought-after 198 mark this season and its best three-game streak since posting four consecutive scores of 197.900 or better in March 2019.
“We’re proving to everyone that we’re here and we’re going to stay here,” Johnson said. “And we’re proving to ourselves that we’re this team and we’re going to be really, really good.”
Johnson has proven once again that she is really good herself. The 2021 SEC floor champion recorded her seventh career perfect score, including another on balance beam in 2020 in Florida and one on floor earlier this month against Auburn.
Johnson is now tied with Lloimincia Hall for the fourth most perfect 10 in program history and is just two shy of the school record of nine shared by Jennifer Wood and current LSU assistant coach Ashleigh Gnat. Johnson, Sarah Finnegan (six 10s) and April Burkholder (eight) are the only Tigers with perfect scores in three different events.
Johnson didn’t get a chance to try for a fifth career 10 on the floor this time around. With victory already assured before Johnson performed, LSU coach Jay Clark opted to take LSU’s top five scores in the event and end the encounter on the spot. Anticlimactic perhaps, but indicative of LSU’s season-long efforts to retain Johnson’s chronically troublesome hamstring that has bothered her since the middle of her freshman season.
“I think I’m better,” Johnson said of his injury. “I try not to do a lot of numbers in the gym.”
Sensing a large audience with this Southeastern Conference matchup, ESPN moved the meet from the SEC Network to ESPN, marking LSU Gymnastics’ first appearance on the flagship network.
The Tigers held on, posting a season-high total with 15 scores of 9.90 or better on 23 routines and a 49.650 that was LSU’s fourth-best score on balance beam in program history. And the Tigers did it without junior Alyona Shchennnikova, who has two all-around titles this season but suffered a knee injury.
“The depth of this team is incredible,” sophomore Haleigh Bryant said. “We know that if one person can’t go that day, so many others can go and say, ‘I can do it for you.’ It’s great to be on such an incredible team.
Alabama finished strong on beam with a 49.625, but by then the competition was all but over as long as LSU avoided a disaster on floor.
With Johnson not competing on floor, Bryant clinched the all-around title with a 39.675, just ahead of Alabama’s Lilly Hudson (39.550). LSU’s Sami Durante also won the uneven bars title with a 9.95, his first this season and 13th in his five-year career at LSU. Bama’s Lexi Graber won the vault with a 9.975 and the floor with a 9.925.
Bryant struggles with a partially torn plantar fascia tendon in his foot, but still tied his career-best score. It was the 20th career individual title for Bryant, the 2021 NCAA vault champion.
“There’s still a bit of (tendon) that’s connected, but I haven’t had any issues with that lately,” Bryant said. “I hope it’s gone. If it’s completely torn, that would be better, because there’s nothing structural with my foot.
While it’s always a big night for the Tigers when they host Alabama in gymnastics, LSU has further upped the ante by welcoming back its former students in men’s and women’s gymnastics. It was also the first time that longtime assistant Bob Moore, who retired after the 2021 season, returned to the pitch, and was capped off with a standing ovation for legendary coach DD Breaux, who took his retirement in 2020.
The weekend is only halfway through for LSU, which is scheduled to travel Saturday morning to Columbia, Mo., for a three-team SEC meet at noon Sunday against Missouri and Arkansas. The encounter, which will air on SECNetwork+, replaces LSU encounters against Mizzou and Arkansas that were postponed by COVID-19 concerns.
LSU is at Texas Woman’s University Feb. 25 and returns home March 4 to host Kentucky.
1. #5 LSU 198.050 (Vault — 49.500, Bars — 49.450, Beam — 49.650, Floor — 49.450)
2. #8 Alabama 197,600 (Vault – 49,450, Bars – 49,300, Beam – 49,625, Floor – 49,225)
Individual (includes first place and all LSU competitors)
All around – 1. Haleigh Bryant, LSU, 39.675; 2. Lilly Hudson, Alabama, 39,550.
Skip – 1. Lexi Graber, Alabama, 9,975; 2. Haleigh Bryant, LSU, 9.925; T3. Kai Rivers, Sarah Edwards, Kiya Johnson, LSU, 9.90; T7. Elena Arenas, KJ Johnson, LSU, 9.875.
Bars – 1. Sami Durante, LSU, 9.95; 2. Haleigh Bryant, LSU, 9.925; T3. Kiya Johnson, LSU, 9.90; T5. Kai Rivers, LSU, 9.875; 10. Olivia Dunne, LSU, 9.80; T11. Elena Arenas, LSU, 9:35 a.m.
Shine – 1. Kiya Johnson, LSU, 10.0; 3. Haleigh Bryant, LSU, 9.95; T6. Christina Desiderio, Bridget Dean, Aleah Finnegan, LSU, 9.90; 12. Kai Rivers, LSU, 9.85.
Floor – 1. Lexi Graber, Alabama, 9,925; T2. Christina Desiderio, Olivia Dunne, Aleah Finnegan, LSU, 9.90; T6. KJ Johnson, Haleigh Bryant, LSU, 9.875; Kiya Johnson, LSU, did not compete.