Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Utah's Nicolle Ford competes on the beam during Monday's loss to top-ranked Georgia.

The University of Utah's gymnastics team got most of what it wanted out of Monday night's battle of the unbeatens with No. 1-ranked Georgia.

The meet came down to the final competitor, Gritt Hofmann's wildly popular floor routine, and she thought she had done enough to nail down the win.

"I just knew I had to hit it. I knew it was close," Hofmann said.

She did hit, but her score was 9.90, and she actually needed 9.925 to tie the team scores, so Georgia, the defending NCAA champion, went on to its 13th straight victory of the season, 197.10-197.075 for the now-9-1 Utes in the Huntsman Center before a season-high 13,809.

"I hate losing to them," said Ute junior co-captain Nicolle Ford, who has now lost two seasons in a row to the Gym Dogs since the two teams resumed their regular-season series last year for the first time since 1991.

Yet the process in this case was probably the important thing.

"It doesn't get any better," said Utah coach Greg Marsden, whose wife and associate coach Megan Marsden quickly corrected him, that it could have been better with a win.

But for a team that has struggled to put together a complete meet most of this season, despite being 9-0 going into the meet, Georgia provided the challenge for the Utes to pretty much show their best.

There was one fall on beam, and Ford, trying a new tumbling pass at the end of her routine, went almost to her knees and scored 9.6.

But the Utes counted no really poor scores, as they have had to do most of the season, even though they were unbeaten, and they led for three events despite actually losing because they didn't stick landings on their first event, vault.

And Marsden was simply happy Ford got through the new double-pike pass at the end of her routine for the first time because she'd had trepidations about doing it until he told her she needed it to be competitive at the NCAA championships in April. "That's all it took," he said, for her to begin working on it just two weeks ago.

Both teams came out of the meet with a renewed sense of confidence.

Georgia coach Suzanne Yoculan was satisfied that her team could go into a tough environment and beat a good home team in the final rotation — Utah was on floor and the Gym Dogs on beam, where it's hard to be dominating. And she was happy to see her team make good yet again on its desire to be unbeaten for the season — something the athletes chose as a goal before the season started.

"It shows how mentally tough we are," said Gym Dog all-arounder Katie Heenan about Georgia being able to outscore Utah in the last rotation, the Dogs with 48.375 on beam to Utah's 49.325 on floor.

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Marsden, whose team dropped to the No. 6 ranking from third place last week when the ratings were released late Sunday night, said, "We came within a whisker of getting done what we hoped to do. We know now we belong on the floor with anybody," and after a somewhat uneven season, maybe that's something that gets the Utes back to where they think they should be.

Yet, with some six weeks left before the postseason, there are still improvements for both teams to attempt, which is a good thing, Yoculan and Marsden said.

"I hope what they take from this is a feeling that they're right there, with possibly enough discontent to make a final push in the last six weeks of the season," Marsden said.

"I think we're exactly where we want to be at this point," he added. "We can't be unhappy about anything tonight."

The meet was pretty much what would be expected of two of the country's most respected teams, the ones who've been on top of the national-championship podiums more than anyone else — Utah with 10 national titles and Georgia with six NCAA championships.