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Despite Kyla Ross’ two perfect scores, UCLA gymnastics falls to Oklahoma for first loss

UCLA’s Kyla Ross smiles after completing her routine on the uneven parallel bars during the NCAA col
UCLA’s Kyla Ross smiles after completing her routine on the uneven parallel bars during the NCAA women’s gymnastics championships in April 2018.
(Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)

As the announcer at Lloyd Noble Center congratulated the UCLA gymnastics team on its first second-place finish of the season, Bruins coach Valorie Kondos Field stared expressionless.

The record-setting crowd of 10,177 in attendance roared in celebration after No. 1 Oklahoma defeated No. 2 UCLA 197.775-197.575 on Sunday. Despite earning three perfect 10s in the meet, defending national champion UCLA fell short.

The problem, Kondos Field said, was the Bruins played it safe.

“We were just fighting to not give away deductions, instead of releasing ourselves to be brilliant,” Kondos Field said. “That’s the difference between a 9.8, and a 9.95 or a 10.”

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That difference cost UCLA its undefeated season as the Bruins earned their lowest team score since Jan. 27.

Starting with the vault and uneven bars, the Sooners were sensational. Four gymnasts scored 9.9 or higher on bars, two on vault, leaving UCLA trailing Oklahoma by .475 at the halfway point.

There were no falls by the Bruins in those two rotations, with every bars routine at least a 9.8, but only junior Kyla Ross scored 9.9 or higher.

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The Bruins’ bright spot in the first two rotations, Ross started the meet with a perfect 10 on the uneven bars. Then, she did it again on vault — with flawless flips, a sturdy landing and exuberant grin. It was her fourth 10 on bars this season, her third on vault.

“It was really great just going out there and being able to go up and do what I normally do in practice,” Ross said.

It was Ross’ fifth consecutive meet with a 10. She ranks No. 1 in the nation in the all-around and top five in each discipline. Her seven perfect 10s this season are more than every other team in the nation combined.

But in her teammates, Ross saw hesitation in their handstands on the uneven bars, in their landings on vault.

“They had more doubts in their head than just confidence going into the events,” Ross said. “I feel like we were just holding back.”

After the vault, junior Madison Kocian gathered the Bruins in a huddle, attempting to rally the team. Kondos Field compared her tone to a team huddle at last year’s national championship.

“After that, it was like, lights out,” Kondos Field said, snapping her fingers. “OK, now we did the gymnastics that we were capable of doing.”

Ross fell just shy of a 10 on floor, with a 9.975, but four Bruins scored 9.9 or higher, and Katelyn Ohashi capped off the rotation with a 10. It was her fourth perfect score on floor this season.

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One Oklahoma gymnast wobbled on the beam, and senior Carly Woodard fell off. The Sooners ended with a score of 49.200 in the third rotation to UCLA’s 49.675.

The two teams were tied at 148.200. It would come down to the final rotation.

“ESPN, you’re welcome,” Kondos Field said. “Could not have asked for a better story line going into the last event.”

Last year’s regular-season matchup between the two teams saw four straight 10s in the final rotation. Oklahoma won by a tenth of a point. This time, the Sooners stepped up again, with five scores of 9.9 or better on floor.

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With the win on the line Sunday, the Bruins took no risks. They are the top-ranked team in the country on beam, but only Ohashi and junior Grace Glenn scored 9.9 or higher.

At a news conference after the meet, Kondos Field shared how she had hoped to go undefeated in her final season — the one achievement that has eluded her in her in 28 years as UCLA’s coach. It was a goal the Bruins set before the season started, a goal they have vocalized after several meets this year.

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But Kondos Field offered another point — maybe it’s better that the team lost. The disappointment is a reminder not to grow complacent, as UCLA prepares for the Pac-12 Conference and NCAA championships.

“We’re not the best at this moment,” Ross said. “We need to keep working.”

blake.richardson@latimes.com

Twitter: @rblakerich_


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