For their first NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships appearance, BYU's ninth-seeded Cougars are so laid-back they didn't care that they misread their practice schedule and couldn't work out on the main floor in Coleman Coliseum on the University of Alabama campus before tonight's team and all-around national finals.

"It's not a giant factor," said Y. coach Brad Cattermole. "Most of the girls would rather not."For their first NCAA appearance, Utah State's 11th-seeded Aggies are so impressed by the aura of the event - "overwhelmed," said Michele Bugbee - that coach Ray Corn can only think of one thing: the scene in the movie dd "Hoosiers" where the team from the little town walks into the state finals arena and the coach measures the height of the basket rim to convince his team it's the same as in their home gym.

BYU and USU just want to experience the national meet this time.

But for four teams, two from the East and two from the West, University of Utah included, tonight is deadly serious business. All four are young, but three have won NCAA team titles, and all four have hosted the event.

There are 12 teams here, but Alabama, defending-champion Utah, Oregon State and Georgia, seeded in that order, are expected to slug it out for the title with everyone else just spectating. Utah has won seven national titles, Georgia two and Alabama one.

"On a given night," said Utah coach Greg Marsden, "any one of us could win, and if we held four different championships, each one might win one."

Georgia coach Suzanne Yoculan agreed and added, "I don't think it will come down to who stays on the balance beam." That event usually determines the winner. To her, the field is so good, "I think everyone will stay on beam."

That could trim the victor's margin to hundredths of a point, which wouldn't be a surprise.

Utah, 13-1, beat Georgia, 16-3, at Athens 193.55-193.5 on Jan. 25. Georgia beat previously undefeated Alabama, 194.1-194.05 at the Southeast Conference Championship March 23. Oregon State, 17-1, beat Utah by .25 Feb. 15 in Corvallis. Utah and Alabama both own big wins over Georgia on successive weeks, but Georgia lost all-arounder Heather Stepp to a broken elbow at Utah and had no recovery time. And Utah beat Oregon State big to open the season.

Both Alabama coach Sarah Patterson and Yoculan say the .05 Georgia SEC win was the turning point of their seasons.

Georgia, said Yoculan, found out then that it could contend without Stepp.

And "I realized our capabilities at that meet," said Patterson, who starts four freshmen. Alabama built slowly and got the No. 1 seed for this event by scoring 195.575, just .25 shy of Utah's NCAA record, in the NCAA Central Regional two weeks ago.

Many suspect that score because it was the Tide's highest by 1.375 points this season and nearly two points more than its regional qualifying average while three of the other four regionals - involving the three other title contenders - had scores closely approximating what those teams have done all season.

Still, Marsden said, "I don't think their being seeded No. 1 is a fluke or that the score was unreasonable." 'Bama, he said, had four surgeries last summer, so starting slow was expected.

And the Tide vaulted well - its weakness - and was the best it's ever been on beam, said UA assistant David Patterson. It threw out a 9.8 score.

"I'm sure they have a place dusted off in their trophy case," Marsden said.

Oregon State has never finished higher than fourth but has two of the best all-arounders in Joy Selig (39.4 best) and Chari Knight (39.5, tying Utah's Missy Marlowe's NCAA record). "If it's going to happen, this could be the year," said OSU coach Jim Turpin.

The all-around will be determined Friday with individual-event finals Saturday night. Marlowe's the top-ranked NCAA all-arounder, followed by Alabama's defending champ Dee Dee Foster (39.375 best), Utah's Kristen Kenoyer, Selig and Utah's Shelly Schaerrer. Georgia is led by freshmen Hope Spivey (39.475 in Southeast Regional) and Kelly Macy (39.125 best).

Friday's meet starts at 3:30 p.m. MDT with the first rotation of the bottom six teams, including BYU and USU. The main event begins at 6:30 p.m. Saturday's meet starts at 6 p.m. MDT.


(Additional information)

NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships

Friday, SAturday at Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Seed/team Qual. Score

1. Alabama 194.9467

2. Utah 194.7133

3. Oregon State 194.6167

4. Georgia 194.1700

5. Penn State 192.7000

6. LSU 191.7467

7. Arizona 191.6230

8. Florida 191.4733

9. Brigham Young 191.3200

10. Auburn 191.1867

11. Utah State 190.9633

12. Arizona State 190.8666

Scheduled participants

UTAH - Meredith King, Jessica Smith, Kristen Kenoyer, Amy Keller, Shelly Schaerrer, Missy Marlowe, Tracy Richard, Jenny Dondalson.

BRIGHAM YOUNG - Carrie Burk, Jane Greenwood, Lori McBride, Marianne Squires, Korie Jackman, Christy McAdams, Heidi Radoff, Shauna Mertz, Tammy Packard.

UTAH STATE - Lori Loudner, Natalie Cannon, Brenda School, Julie Ryan, Kim Johnson, Michele Bugbee, Haley Houtchens, Heidi Pfannenstiel, Cami Card.