In what could be a preview of the NCAA championships, No. 1 Oklahoma will host No. 2 Illinois Friday at the McCasland Fieldhouse.
Both teams enter the meet with 10-0 records. The Sooners and Fighting Illini are the last two unbeaten teams in the country. It’s being billed as “The Perfect Dual.”
Oklahoma comes into the match being led by the dynamics of Allan Bower. The sophomore is the latest in the long lineage of OU gymnasts to earn a spot on the U.S. Senior Men’s National Team.
Bower turned in two quality performances at the Winter Cup in Las Vegas last weekend to earn a score of 171.700 for a seventh-place finish. The score was the second highest among all collegiate athletes at the event.
Bower’s best individual event finish came on the pommel horse, as he placed fifth with a two-session score of 29.600. He was also named the MPSF Gymnast of the Week for his performance in the Winter Cup.
The team is coming off its best showing of the year when it faced Michigan. The Sooners smashed the all-time NCAA record for team score by posting a mark of 456.400. They are the first team to ever break the 450 barrier.
During the performance the Sooners set four team records on events, including floor exercise (76.650), pommel horse (76.150), still rings (76.500) and high bar (77.050).
“I was really happy with the energy from the guys,” OU coach Mark Williams said. “I really felt like we were ready to bust out a very good score. Our first home meet this far along into the season is kind of unusual. The guys were ready for it and it went really well. That will be a record that stands for a while, I think. Guys were just sticking. They have really worked hard at this point. They are very hungry to finish things off and maybe move up one spot on the podium this year and, hopefully, this is one step towards that.”
Oklahoma has posted the highest individual event score in 22 of 24 events so far this season, with 11 Sooners combining to claim the 22 top scores.
Illinois is also rolling into the competition after breaking its own team record for points. Its team score of 441.300 against Penn State is the best in program history since the implementation of the revised scoring system.
Oklahoma and Illinois have met 48 times with Oklahoma leading the series 40-8. The teams did not meet during the regular season last year, but met twice in the postseason.
Along with the match featuring two undefeated teams, it is the first meet for each team using the five-up, five-count scoring system. In the first half of the season six gymnasts perform each event with five scores counting. But from now on, only five will compete with each of their scores counting.
“There is a lot of training we have to do between now and the end of the season,” Williams said. “We go into the five-up, five-down format which puts a little bit more pressure on every guy to get out there and be solid and handle that kind of intensity of everybody’s score counting. There are other things we have to do but I am very pleased with where we are now.”