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NCAA title a perfect end for UCLA's Christine Peng-Peng Lee

ST. LOUIS -- UCLA gymnast Christine Peng-Peng Lee's focus was clear going into Saturday's NCAA national championships at the Chaifetz Arena.

"Right now, I have a job, and that job is to win national championships," Lee said.

Lee completed her job and then some, scoring a perfect 10 on her final event of the night, the balance beam, to give UCLA the title by .037 points over two-time defending champion Oklahoma. Florida was third, followed by LSU, Utah and Nebraska.

Both Lee and her fans knew that after the competition, the 24-year-old's lifelong dedication to the sport would come to an end. But retirement was far from Lee's mind.

Instead, coming into Saturday's competition, she focused on doing what she did best -- performing for her team -- one last time.

And perform she did. Lee impressed in the fifth rotation with a perfect 10 on bars, the first perfect score of the night. But her big moment came on beam, in the night's last rotation.

Lee watched sophomore teammate Kyla Ross earn a near-perfect score -- 9.9875 to keep the Bruins' hopes alive -- before mounting the beam. That was when Lee remembered that this was her last hurrah.

"I did not know what score I needed to win," Lee said. "I didn't even know we had a chance of winning at that point, to be honest. I said, 'You know what, this is going to be the last beam routine in my life. I'm just going to soak in every single moment.'"

The crowd roared for Lee's innovative and difficult skills and erupted when she stuck her landing. She blew a kiss to the onlookers. Many in the sold-out arena of 6,800 fans chanted for her to get a 10.

They got their wish. When her perfect 10 was announced, it was official: Lee had given UCLA its first national championship since 2010. It was the Bruins' seventh gymnastics title.

"I'm still in shock," Lee said. "I'm on cloud nine right now."

It was the perfect end to her season and an incredible finish to an impressive career.

Lee, who is completing her sixth year at UCLA after successfully petitioning for an extra year of NCAA eligibility, has had a long and injury-ridden career, first as an Olympian for her native Canada and then for UCLA, where she brought her signature difficulty on bars and beam.

Saturday's clutch beam routine was just what UCLA needed to edge out Oklahoma 198.0750 to 198.0375, the smallest margin in nationals history.

Oklahoma made a strong case for the title, with star sophomore Maggie Nichols leading the way. Nichols, who won the individual all-around title Friday night, impressed again Saturday with scores of 9.9625 on the bars and floor, 9.9375 on vault and 9.9125 on beam.

UCLA head coach Valorie Kondos Field said she has "100 percent respect" for the Sooners.

"They're an opponent that reaps class," Field said. "Oklahoma's made us better."

Field credits the changes her team has made since last year's fourth-place finish for Saturday's success.

"This team truly is the easiest team that I've ever coached," she said. "And that is because this time last year we said if we want a different result we've got to do things differently, and what started that was me and our coaching staff just getting real with them.

"This is truly a dream team."

Lee thinks so too.

"I couldn't have asked for a better way to end with this team," Lee said. "Personally, I love this team so much, and it's been an incredible season."

After sticking her beam dismount, Lee embraced Field, and when the trophy arrived, the team handed it to Lee as tears of joy by all were wiped away. It was clear that Lee had done her job.