Greg Marsden explains it this way: If gymnastics programs can be best friends, Utah's and Alabama's are. "They're classy people," Marsden says of Sarah and David Patterson and their Crimson Tide team.

And, said Utah's Marsden, "When you take your best friend out back for a game of one-on-one, you want to beat your best friend more than you'd want to beat someone off the street."Monday night in the Huntsman Center, the Lady Utes were thoroughly ready for the confrontation with their best friends, who just happen to also be the defending NCAA champions after beating Utah in the finals last April.

Utah - with an NCAA dual-meet record crowd of 13,434 watching - went 24 for 24 in routines, without a miss anywhere, and ran off a school-record score of 191.55. That beat the previous high set March 9, 1987, also against Alabama at Utah, by .6.

It is probably one of the top three or four scores in NCAA history, said Marsden. Alabama scored 191.75 to win the NCAA Central regional in 1988.

Alabama, beset by flu and having had an important meet against Oklahoma only four nights earlier, managed 187.55.

"That's as inconsistent as you'll ever see an Alabama team," Marsden sympathized.

"We definitely had too many mistakes," said Sarah Patterson. "I could tell the kids had been out of the gym for 10 days."

On the other hand, "We got started, and it snowballed," said Marsden. "I never expected to score what we scored. It was a great crowd, the kids were higher than a kite, and it was Alabama."

Missy Marlowe continued her daily improvement by winning the all-around for her hometown fans with 38.40, edging fellow freshman Shelly Schaerrer of Orem. Schaerrer had 38.35.

Marlowe scored a meet-high 9.75 on her favorite apparatus, uneven bars, and Schaerrer tied Patti Massoels for first in floor exercise with 9.7. Schaerrer also tied Alabama's Kim Masters for the beam title with 9.65, and Sonja Ahone and Alabama's Marie Robbins tied for best in vaulting at 9.65.

"It's coming together," said Marlowe, who's trained for a month after a three-month post-Olympic layoff. "Tonight I felt like I knew what I was doing, like I belonged." The past two meets, she said she tired near the end of routines; Monday she didn't.

"Missy's just going to get better and better," said Marsden. "She's maybe halfway there."

Schaerrer, he said, has increased difficulty in all three meets and hit all four routines in each meet.

Alabama's Robbins needed 9.55 on her final event, beam, to tie Marlowe for the all-around, but she stepped off the end of the beam and took an 8.5. Robbins was the Tide member most bothered by flu and practiced only one day last week. "What do you say to a big scorer?" said Patterson. "You're sick; do your best. We needed another week."

Patterson inquired about some scores, saying she hoped to learn from the experience of dealing with officials from a different region. "Our errors were execution errors," Patterson was told. "I'm excited about that; we can fix that."

Alabama took an early lead, scoring 47.60 on bars to the Utes' 47.45 in vaulting, but that bar performance may have taken too much out of a tired team, Patterson said. Utah scored near-team-records of 48.15 on bars and 47.70 on beamand set a team record with 48.25 in floor exercise to build its huge score.

"Four points doesn't mean anything," said Marsden of the margin. In fact, it worries him. Utah goes to Alabama Feb. 18.

"Look what they did to us down there last year," he said of a 188.95-186.85 loss in Tuscaloosa. "I know what that did for us," he added, remembering it as a wakeup call for a team that thought it was further along than it was. Utah scored 189.80, 190.55 and 190.75 in its next three meets.

"All this did was make them mad at themselves because they didn't do what they're capable of."

Patterson smiled a friendly smile and said, "That's right."