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LSU freshman Haleigh Bryant performs her floor routine in the Tigers' season opener against Arkansas, Friday, January 8, 2021, at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Bryant scored a 9.975 in the event.

Technically, LSU gymnastics coach Jay Clark can easily explain away the problems that caused Haleigh Bryant to fall on the last pass of her floor routine in both of the Tigers’ sessions two weeks ago in the NCAA Salt Lake City regional.

Confidence, however, is what you feel. At this point, Clark could either still have it or have lost it in a gymnast who, despite some missteps, has been perhaps the top freshman in the country this season.

Clark has chosen the former.

“We believe in what she’s done all season long,” Clark said Tuesday before the team left for this weekend’s NCAA Championships in Fort Worth, Texas. “She’s been the best freshman and one of the best gymnasts in the country.”

Bryant caught a toe on the mat and fell on her last pass Feb. 12 at home in a No. 1 versus 2 showdown with Florida, leaving the Tigers one-tenth of a point short of victory, 198.150-198.050. She fell again on both routines in Salt Lake City.

“I think she overcooked it the first day (in the regional) because the altitude bothered her from the moment we landed there,” Clark said. “The second day she was thinking about the first day and under(rotated).”

Bryant performs one of the most dynamic floor routines in women’s collegiate gymnastics, finishing with a rare forward tumble on her last pass.

When it’s worked, which has usually been the case, Bryant has turned in excellent scores. She had a 9.975 in LSU’s season-opener against Arkansas. Between the fall against Florida and in the regional she turned in three straight 9.95s followed by a still excellent 9.925 in the Southeastern Conference Championship meet.

Clark said there has been no thought to changing Bryant’s routine.

“It’s too late to make changes,” he said. “We’re staying the course. We have a ton of confidence in her.”

Bryant went into NCAA competition ranked third nationally on vault, fourth on floor and ninth as an all-arounder.

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No other changes expected

Clark went on to say he doesn’t anticipate any other lineup changes from the gymnasts who went 197.750 to finish second to Utah in the regional final.

“I don’t think so, though it’s always a possibility,” he said. “We have alternates on every event except bars.”

The basics

LSU will compete in Semifinal II at 5 p.m. Friday on ESPN2 at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth. The No. 3-seeded Tigers will be going against No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 6 Utah and No. 7 Alabama, which nipped LSU by one-tenth of a point for the SEC title in March. Co-No. 1 Florida, No. 4 Michigan, No. 5 California and No. 8 Minnesota are in the first semifinal at noon.

The top two teams from each semifinal advance to Saturday’s four-team final at 2:30 p.m. on ABC. In a pre-determined random draw, LSU will start Friday on floor, then move to vault and uneven bars before closing on beam.

In addition to its six gymnasts in each event, LSU will be competing in its rotation alongside UCLA all-arounder Chae Campbell. UCLA did not advance as a team to nationals, but three of its gymnasts will compete as individuals.

The NCAA individual champions will be determined Friday. LSU has produced 15 individual NCAA champions, including Kennedi Edney (vault) and Sarah Finnegan (bars) in 2019.

Email Scott Rabalais at srabalais@theadvocate.com