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Oklahoma beat Utah by two points three weeks ago in Norman, and the Utah women's gymnastics team was ready to return the favor Monday night in a four-way meet at the Huntsman Center.

The rivalry hardly materialized. Oklahoma, at its own request, started on balance beam; it did a poor job, had three scores of 8.7 or less and took itself out of contention at the start.Add in several other factors - Utah's five hard days of practice trying to upgrade; Oklahoma's previous meet, a yawner at tiny Texas Women's University; the Sooners' Saturday-night-special airline fare that had them sitting around a Salt Lake City hotel for two days; and the two other teams, who weren't in the same class as No. 1-ranked Utah and No. 7 Oklahoma - and what transpired was a less-than-crackling evening.

It was OK with Utah Coach Greg Marsden.

"I really liked their attitude," said Marsden about his Utes, who scored 191.0 to Oklahoma's 187.35, Stanford's 181.90 and New Mexico's 180.25. "It was kind of matter-of-fact. They just did their thing.

"It doesn't make it very exciting for the crowd (4,226)," he admitted, but what matters now is preparing for nationals in eight weeks.

Many Utes improved routines in intense practice last week, and most upgrades worked, said Marsden. Utah's falls and misses - two on bars, four on beam as two gymnasts fell twice each - "were on things we should be able to do," Marsden said, citing possible fatigue. The Utes counted one fall on bars, by Missy Marlowe, who still scored 9.3, and one double fall on beam.

Marlowe and teammate Hilarie Portell tied for the all-around title, each scoring 38.35, which is Portell's career best by .2 point. Sooner Cassie Frey was third at 38.25, and Tatiana Figueiredo had 38.05 but was ready for the title until she fell from bars in her final event.

"It's kinda cool," said Portell of her personal-best total, which included 9.65 on beam to tie a career best.

"It's long overdue," said Marsden, adding that Portell "doesn't view herself as a superstar" and maybe she should. "You go through every event, and she does as much difficulty as everyone else," he said.

Portell, who had misses last week at Alabama, was determined to concentrate and take events as they came. Her scores: 9.55 vault, 9.65 bars, 9.55 floor.

Marlowe has scored 38.65 and would have had a similar total had she not fallen from bars. "It was close," she said of the skill she missed, a second Tkachev release/catch. "I know I'll never overthrow that again. To have the bar in your hands and then peel is frustrating," she said.

Her scores were 9.55 in vault, 9.7 on floor and 9.8 on beam, which used to be her most dreaded event but is now her favorite - she's scored 9.85 and 9.8 on it in her last three meets.

Utah also got big numbers from Shelly Schaerrer, who had career-high 9.8s on bars and beam. On bars, she said, her two release moves finally came together for the first time. On beam, she and Marlowe have had difficulty with the gainer layout all season. Schaerrer told Marlowe that if she hit it, Marlowe would have to. They both did.

Things weren't so easy for Oklahoma. Coach Becky Buwick wanted to start on beam because her team starts there in the Big 8 finals in two weeks. "We need to toughen up our minds," she said. "There are no excuses for missing beam like that."

Utah's next meet is Saturday night at Utah State.