Full schedule and links
 Alabama @  LSU
Friday, January 31st, 7:30pm CT – SEC Network
The sole top-10 matchup of the weekend sees Alabama visit LSU in a meet presenting a major opportunity for both teams, though one that is likely more important for LSU than it is for Alabama. Sure, a win for Alabama would be a huge deal, a big step forward (more like a three-tenth lunge) in making the case that the slump is over—and a plump 197 road score is always a mouthwatering prospect in a meet like this. But if Alabama manages to, say, hit 197.2 and lose by five tenths, you don’t chalk that up as a disappointment, really. It’s fine. It’s still a solid marker toward making it back to nationals, and Alabama wasn’t the favorite anyway.
LSU, meanwhile, is the favorite—at home, and facing a team it has been comfortably better than for several years now. LSU is also eager to prove that despite losing to Florida last weekend, the team is closer to Florida at the top of the conference than it is to Alabama/Georgia in the next tier. A convincing win over Alabama would make that case.
At this point in the season, both teams are working to move out of “flashes of excellence” territory and into “we do well on all the events, and like…every time” territory. LSU got its closest so far last week with strong showings on vault, bars, and beam, but still wasn’t ideal on floor with the injury to Sarah Edwards providing a deflating moment in that rotation and a lineup question moving forward to this meet. We’ve learned that the injury is just a sprained ankle and nothing worse, but that’s still probably going to change the vault and floor dynamics for a spell. LSU shouldn’t be hurting on floor by the end of the season, but if Edwards is out for a bit (and we haven’t seen Desiderio there, and Rivers hasn’t done floor yet), the lineup could be scrounging for routines. On vault, we did see the full from Nibbs at the beginning of the year, but it is certainly a lower-scoring option than Edwards’ 1.5, so don’t be surprised if LSU experiences a scoring dip on those events this week. (Cut to everyone getting 9.950 on floor and DD transfiguring into an actual tiger mid-rotation.)
Alabama has its own lineup conundrum to work out after last week’s performance, where some lineup changes from the strong outing against Oklahoma ended up undermining a couple of the rotation scores. Alabama will absolutely want Luisa Blanco on bars and floor in the postseason, but she missed her first routines on both events last week, and if the team feels like it’s in it with a shot to upset LSU by going through cleanly, is it worth putting up a questionable hit? Typically, I’d say Alabama needs to go all-out, putting out every possible best routine, to have any shot at beating LSU at LSU. That’s probably still the case, but since LSU has shown those counting-fall moments so far, Alabama may consider a “let’s try for six hits everywhere, get our road 197, and it might also work out for a win” strategy.
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