April 4, 2002

By OWEN CANFIELD
AP Sports Writer

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) - Defending champion Ohio State had a little bit of trouble Thursday, but still advanced to the team finals in the NCAA men's gymnastics championships.

The top-ranked Buckeyes scored 215.375 points to lead the three qualifiers from the afternoon session. The other two were surprises _ No. 8 Michigan with 214.075 and 11th-ranked Stanford with 214.00.

No. 2 Oklahoma was among the six teams scheduled to compete in the evening session. The top three advance to Friday's team finals.

Ohio State coach Miles Avery had planned to use his top gymnast, Raj Bhavsar, in just two events, but wound up using him in five.

"We weren't performing like we should, and obviously he's our go-to guy," Avery said. "We needed him because we weren't performing as we should have, so I said, 'All right, suit up, you're in.' He's a trooper and he just went in and did a great job for us."

Bhavsar, runner-up in the all-around last year and the favorite this year, said he had hoped to have a light day in order to rest an ailing left shoulder.

"But just like sport goes, things can go unexpectedly and we had some rough areas," Bhavsar said. "Miles said, 'Raj, we need you to just step it up a little bit to secure our spot for tomorrow.' It was no biggie. I want to get us in there."

Michigan advanced despite having Kris Zimmerman for only two events. Zimmerman, NCAA champion in the parallel bars two years ago and runner-up last year, jammed his left ankle on his landing in the vault. X-rays showed no break.

"It's possible he won't go any events tomorrow. It's also possible that he'll go all six," coach Kurt Golder said. "The good news is we qualified without him in the last half of the meet."

Stanford coach Sadao Hamada thanked a freshman and a fifth-year senior for helping get the Cardinal into the team finals. Freshman Kelly Lang, performing last on the parallel bars after watching two teammates struggle, came through with a 8.925. Then Rico Andrade, going last on the high bar in a similar circumstance, scored 9.250.

"I don't know how much I can take," said Hamada, who is retiring this season after 30 years at Stanford. "It was really scary."

Minnesota finished fourth in the afternoon with 212.850, but Clay Strother, Guillermo Alvarez and Eric Steele all qualified for the all-around finals Friday night. Strother is the defending champion in the pommel horse and the floor exercise.