Pickens (near) perfect as Bama downs UCLA

TUSCALOOSA-- Andree Pickens made sure she and her fellow seniors would have a night to remember. Pickens, competing in her last regular season home meet, posted one perfect 10 and won the all-around competition, leading Alabama to a 197.65-197.0 win over UCLA. The Tide does have one more Coleman Coliseum appearance, as UA will host the NCAA Championships April 18-20.

Pickens' all-around score of 39.85 is an Alabama school record.

First came a pre-meet ceremony honoring the Tide's senior class of 2002: student-coach Krista Gole, and gymnasts Whitney Morgan, Natalie Barrington, Raegan Tomasek, Alexa Martinez and Pickens, who drew the loudest cheer of all. The gymnasts were escorted down the stairs and onto the floor while Randy Owen crooned "My Home's In Alabama" on tape in the background and p.a. announcer Tony Giles listed each lady's career achievements in both the gym and classroom.

For Pickens, the cheers only got louder as the evening got longer. The Houston senior won the vault, tied for first on bars, and captured both the beam and floor exercise.

Andrea' Pickens was near-perfect in taking the All-Around title.

"It was nice to be at home to do my first floor routine (after a knee injury)," said Pickens, "it being senior night and having such a large crowd, and loud crowd at that."

Northport's Erin Holdefer got things started right for the Tide with a 9.85 on vault, and Jeana Rice followed that with a 9.9. A fall on bars moments later by UCLA's Onnie Willis (who was competing with an injured right hand) meant the Bruins had to count a 9.775 by Malia Jones.

Pickens nailed a perfect 10 on the final vault of her regular season UA career. Neither judge hesitated in hoisting the double-digit score, to the delight of a Coleman Coliseum crowd of 10,37.

"Being that it was senior night, and we had the adrenaline, and the crowd behind us...within our team we were all pumping each other up," said Pickens. "We've been working hard on sticking our landings, and it was an opportunity for me to take and stick my landing."

The Tide led 49.45-49.3 at the end of rotation one.

Rice led off the second rotation with a 9.9 on bars, while Willis rebounded with a 9.9 on vault for UCLA. The Bruins' Jeannette Antolin also pulled a 9.9, and fourth-ranked UCLA made things interesting. Barrington's 9.925 on bars was followed by Pickens' 9.95. At "halftime" of the meet, second-ranked Alabama led 98.85 to 98.625, despite the Bruins' 49.4 on floor and Bama's bars score of 49.3.

UCLA coach Valorie Kondos Field did not use Jamie Dantzscher on floor, despite the sophomore's seven consecutive perfect 10's on the mat. The move was made to rest her star for the postseason. "We're going to need (Dantzscher) in the all-around come regionals and nationals," said Kondos Field.

After a fall by Kristen Sterner, Bama needed two straight clutch performances on balance beam. Rice's 9.9 and Pickens' dazzling 9.925 meant UA got through the beam without counting a major deduction That factor, combined with the absence of Dantzscher on floor, gave UA a 148.125-147.9 lead after three rotations, despite the 9.925 floor routine of the visitors' Yvonne Tousek. Had Dantzscher gotten a 10, the teams would have been tied heading into the last rotation.

Wouldn't have mattered.

Raegan Tomasek helped solidify the meet for Bama with a 9.925 on the floor exercise.

After the usual stirring rendition of "YMCA" including meet regulars wearing a hard hat, captain's hat, cowboy hat and Indian headdress, the Tide knew it could close the door for the Bruins and nail down a Senior Night win with a good performance on floor.

The Tide not only closed the door, it slammed it shut, deadbolted it and pushed some furniture up against it for good measure.

Tomasek posted a 9.925, and Pickens followed with a crowd-noise producing 9.975 , with the Bama fight song a part of her routine music. Freshman Alexis Brion earned a 9.925, with a double backflip on her final pass.

"It was a great meet. It'll be a great memory," said Tomasek. "It will be one that will remain one of my great memories from my college career."

Patterson is happy with her team's status score-wise and event-wise heading to the postseason. "We weren't perfect. I think there's improvement for us (coming). We need to stick our landings (on vault and beam). In the last three weeks, we have made some great strides forward," said Patterson. "I feel like we're at a high difficulty level right now. To the untrained eye, you might not notice that we're adding...things, but we are, and I think that's what's making us competitive with such a talented team as UCLA."

Next up for Bama (14-2) will be Saturday's SEC Championship meet in Birmingham's Bartow Arena on the UAB campus. That meet begins at 7:00 p.m.

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