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Marsdens, Stephensons reunite tonight

The two coaches and their assistant coach-wives will do the Valentine's Day thing together tomorrow, spending the day like the old friends that they are and going out for dinner.

"We're still very close," says Utah gymnastics coach Greg Mars-den, "but I know they're going to come in ready (tonight)."That's the ninth-ranked, 5-1 University of Minnesota gym team, which meets the 3-1, second-ranked Utes tonight at 7 p.m. in the Huntsman Center.

Minnesota is coached by Jim and Meg Stephenson. Jim was Mars-den's top assistant coach from 1989-92 at Utah, and when he and volunteer coach Meg left for the Minnesota position, Marsden's wife Megan was elevated to top assistant.

"I have a feeling it's going to be a lot tougher than people think," says Marsden, whose team hasn't been beaten at home during the regular season since Feb. 20, 1979.

Minnesota has most of its athletes back from the team that was 10th at the NCAA Championships last year (10-time champion Utah was seventh, its lowest national finish since 1978). "They're a mature team. There's a very high motivation factor for them to come back here and win the meet," says Marsden, whose Utes won at Minneapolis last year by .05 point.

"It's like we're (Jim and Greg) brothers," says Marsden, noting how 1-on-1 backyard basketball with a brother is usually the "fiercest" game around.

And the Golden Gophers are just plain good. They've beaten traditional powers Alabama and Michigan at home (Utah lost at Michigan), and they beat Utah State in Minnesota (194.00-189.875) last weekend by far more than Utah beat the Aggies (194.95-193.40) in Logan Feb. 2.

Utah spent the week upgrading its floor-exercise difficulty wince that's been its weakest event. It is ranked second nationally on vault and bars and third on beam.

The Utes are coming off a surprisingly high season high 196.825 that included a 10.0 beam set by freshman Shannon Bowles against BYU. It's only the second perfect score ever by a Ute freshman; the other one was by Traci Sommer, now a senior, also on beam.

Bowles (39.60), junior Angie Leonard (39.275) and sophomore Denise Jones (39.25) swept the all-around. Bowles ranks No. 2 in the NCAA on beam and eighth in all-around and on bars. Leonard is ninth in all-around and bars ratings.

If tonight's effort is similar to last Friday's, says Marsden, "we've got a great shot to win." If there's any letdown after BYU, Marsden says he can see Utah losing to UM.

Utah is 13-0 against Minnesota on this Friday the 13th.