Kentucky competed for the first time without senior All-Around leader Aronda Primault, who suffered a knee injury last week at LSU. UK did not have the night Coach "Mo" Muhammad expected it to in the absence of Primault, in front of the 2,053 fans in attendance.
"Honestly, I don't think we did as well as we should have," Muhammad said. "We knew we only had five people on floor and we still had mistakes. We still haven't put it together on beam either. We need to be at 195 to have a chance to go to the post-season and we aren't getting it done."
Kentucky competed on vault and Florida on bars in the first rotation of the night. Freshman Krystle Cook, the team's leader on vault, registered a 9.875 to claim second-place overall behind Katie Rue (9.925) from UF. Gales was UK's second-best competitor in the event as she recorded a 9.825 to finish fifth.
The second rotation featured the Cats on bars and Florida on vault. Kentucky tied its season-high of 49.100 on bars with freshman Alison Sarucci leading the way. Sarucci registered the first 9.900 of her career as a Wildcat for a second-place finish, while Gales and senior Julie Joy came through strong with a pair of 9.875 performances. Kentucky trailed the Gators 98.650 – 97.975 after the first two rotations.
Gales and sophomore Staci O'Keefe were the Cats' top beam performers with a pair of 9.800 scores, which tied them for sixth in the exercise. Florida junior Kristen Stucky, who celebrated her birthday at the meet, scored the only 10.0 of the night on her beam routine to claim first-place in the event.
In the final rotation of the night, Joy steadied Kentucky with a 9.850 floor routine, her highest of the season, and Gales recorded her seventh 9.900 or better performance on floor to claim her second title in the event. Muhammad was pleased with Joy and Gales' overall leadership in the meet.
"Julie stepped up for us tonight," Muhammad said. "She did great on bars and we counted all of her scores. I'm excited for what she has meant to this program. She has worked really hard to try to fill in for Aronda."
"Michelle did fantastic as well," Muhammad added. "We told the girls to step up and she did just that. She knows she has room to grow and we are excited for what she is doing. We would like for the underclassmen to take lessons from her."
The Cats welcomed back freshman Rachel Riley to the lineup. The Dallas native competed for the first time since Jan. 16 at Arkansas, due to a wrist injury she sustained in practice.
"I'm proud of Rachel Riley because she came through on floor and she hasn't done floor in a long time because of her wrist. I know I'm depending on freshmen to do a lot for us, but at this point of the season nobody is a freshman anymore."
Kentucky now has an RQS of 194.805 going into the final three meets of the season. The Cats will play host to Ball State, Friday, Mar. 5 in Memorial Coliseum at 7:30 p.m., before hitting the road in its final two regular season competitions heading into the SEC Championships (Mar. 20).
"We need to go back to the gym and work harder because we aren't getting it done," Muhammad said. "This late in the season we can't be making the same mistakes that we made in the beginning of the season."