Is the LSU gymnastics team back?

After a first half of the season marked by ups and downs, the Tigers certainly looked like their old selves with back-to-back impressive performances last time out in the most demanding weekend of the regular season.

LSU won the four-team GymQuarters meet in St. Charles, Missouri, last Friday with a score of 197.250, then returned home Sunday to dust off Missouri 197.650-195.475 with its best score of the season.

Most importantly, the confidence of LSU’s gymnasts has vaulted to another level.

“This past weekend,” Sarah Finnegan said, “we turned a corner.”

For McKenna Kelley, what was old is new again.

“We’re that normal LSU team,” Kelley said, “doing what we’re training and getting out there and putting ourselves on auto pilot, letting our routines speak for themselves.

“We really did that on Friday. Our challenge was, ‘OK, great job, but let’s move that to Sunday. Can we build from this and not take steps back like we’ve been doing this season?’ I’m so proud of this team for doing that. I feel like we’ve figured it out. It’s clicked, and I’m excited and hungry to continue to compete.”

LSU coach D-D Breaux said she needs to see that hunger this Friday out of her No. 5-ranked Tigers when they travel to Fayetteville for a dual meet against Arkansas at 7:30 p.m. on the SEC Network. After that, she said LSU needs momentum to carry over to its next home meet March 1 against Georgia.

“We need a solid 197 this week,” Breaux said. “We need a solid 197 next week to solidify our spot in the top four (nationally).”

The though Arkansas (1-8, 0-5 Southeastern Conference) is ranked No. 21 nationally, this is a meet LSU (7-3, 2-3 SEC) should easily win. While the Tigers struggled to a season-low 196.025 in their last SEC road dual meet at Kentucky, Arkansas has posted only two scores over 196 with a high of 196.175 last week against Auburn.

The key, Breaux said, is for her team to motivate itself if its opponent cannot.

“We’re not sure how big a crowd there will be,” she said. “We’re not sure how strong the Arkansas team is. This team tends to do better when they know there’s a push from strong opponent on the other side of the field.

“We don’t want them to feel like they’re competing against Arkansas. You have to beat (No. 1) Oklahoma. You have to beat the score (SEC leader) Florida is going to put up this weekend. That’s been the challenge. I think as we move forward through the season, we’re going to begin to see that kind of quality and performance.”

LSU has been bothered in some of its road meets by an early “fumble,” a bad individual routine that hampered the rest of the meet.

Finnegan is hopeful the Tigers can now shake off those knocks to their confidence if they happen.

“Our team is maturing in that regard,” Finnegan said. “At this point it’s a mental game and maturity comes with it, with the experience we’ve had. I think we’re going to get better, and I’m excited for Friday.

“We needed to decide as a team who we are. That’s not who we are.”

On Friday, LSU is a team that will once again be without oft-injured senior Lexie Priessman, who has been out of action since she slipped on a hand-hold on uneven bars Feb. 8 at Kentucky, requiring pain-killing injections in her elbow and shoulder.

Breaux said there is no firm timetable for Priessman’s return but hopes she will be back for Georgia. Meanwhile freshman Bailey Ferrer, LSU’s bars alternate behind Priessman, will stay in the lineup.

“We hope to get her at least on bars for Georgia,” Breaux said. “We’d like her on floor, but she can’t do anything but the basics (in practice) while she’s mending.”

Finnegan named AAI finalist

Finnegan has been named one of 30 nominees for the AAI award, given annually to the nation’s top senior gymnast.

A 15-time All-American and the 2018 SEC gymnast of the year, Finnegan is one of two gymnasts in the nation with 9.95s or higher this season in all four disciplines.

Six finalists will be named in mid-March. The winner will be announced in April at the NCAA Championships in Fort Worth, Texas.

Former LSU All-American Ashleigh Gnat won the award in 2017.

SEC standings

Team SEC Pct. Overall Pct. Avg.

Florida 5-0 1.000 5-1 .833 197.613

Auburn 5-1 .833 6-1 .857 196.293

Georgia 3-2 .500 5-3 .625 196.656

Alabama 3-2 .600 8-3 .727 196.386

LSU 2-3 .400 7-3 .700 197.000

Kentucky 2-3 .400 4-5 .444 196.196

Missouri 1-5 .167 5-9 .357 195.934

Arkansas 0-5 .000 1-8 .111 195.596

Friday’s results

GymQuarters Mardi Gras Invitational (St. Charles, Mo.)

LSU 197.250

Utah 197.075

Missouri 196.475

Stanford 195.850

Florida 197.325, Alabama 196.475

Auburn 197.100, Arkansas 196.175

Georgia 197.300, Kentucky 197.225

Sunday’s results

LSU 197.650, Missouri 195.475

Friday’s schedule

LSU at Arkansas, 7:30 p.m. (SEC Network)

Alabama at Kentucky, 6 p.m.

Georgia at Florida, 6 p.m.

Sunday’s schedule

Auburn at Texas Woman’s, 2 p.m.

All times Central

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.​