UCLA Coach Walt Hazzard has spent most of this week preparing his basketball players to face a team that twice this season has outrun the Runnin' Rebels of the University of Las Vegas.
UCLA will open defense of its National Invitation Tournament title tonight at Pauley Pavilion against UC Irvine, a team that counts among its 16 victories two over the team many believe to be the best representative of the West in the NCAA tournament.
UCLA may have its hands full with Irvine, which finished second in the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. standings before losing in the first round of its conference tournament to Cal State Fullerton.
Irvine has an overall record of 16-12, which is better than the Bruins' 15-13.
Hazzard said: "This is not one of those teams that is going to pass the ball 20 times and then take a 25-foot shot. No four corners. No burning the clock down. This should be an exciting game against one of the fine teams on the West Coast. This will be a very tough game for us.
"Both teams like to run. Both are, basically, man-to-man teams. I don't think we have to worry about the 45-second clock going off."
And both teams have players who can sink long shots. During the regular season, the PCAA allows a three-point shot, although that won't be in effect for this tournament. Hazzard said, though, that if he and Irvine Coach Bill Mulligan had their way, it would be included. "I've got a guy with a paint brush standing by," Hazzard said.
Mulligan, a big fan of the three-point shot, believes that the college game "needs something to juice it up," to make it more entertaining.
"One good thing is at least UCLA doesn't hold the ball," Mulligan said. "We like teams that will run up and down with us."
He also likes having the opportunity to put his PCAA team on the floor against a Pacific 10 team. He's not belaboring the subject this week, but he has in the past. He did mention that his team had beaten USC a couple of years ago and hasn't been able to get a game with a Pac-10 team since.
"I can understand it, though," he said. "I don't think they have as much to gain as we do."
Tonight's game at Pauley Pavilion, starting at 7:30, will be televised live on Prime Ticket and broadcast on KMPC (710). It will be the first meeting between the schools. . . . Bill Mulligan is in his sixth season as the UC Irvine coach and has a 104-68 record. Mulligan is 1-0 against UCLA Coach Walt Hazzard, having beaten Hazzard's Division II Chapman team. . . . UC Irvine center Tod Murphy, who is averaging 20.4 points a game, is the school's all-time leading scorer. Forward Johnny Rogers, who is right behind Murphy with a 20.4 average, leads the team in rebounding with an average of 8.7 a game. Rogers played two years at Stanford before transferring. . . . Irvine guard Joe Buchanan, who leads the team in assists, played two seasons at Notre Dame before transferring. . . . Irvine's first-round defeat to Cal State Fullerton in the PCAA tournament was its third loss this season to Fullerton. But Irvine not only has the two victories over Las Vegas but also has beaten Nebraska, another NCAA tournament team.
UCLA is seeking to become just the second team to repeat as NIT champion. St. John's won in 1943 and 1944. . . . UC Irvine is in the NIT for the second time. In 1982, the Anteaters beat San Diego State in the first round but lost to Oklahoma in the second. . . . UCLA is 13-3 in Pauley Pavilion this season. Irvine is 7-9 on the road. . . . Reggie Miller, who leads the Bruins with an average of 26.2 points a game, was the Most Valuable Player in the NIT last season and is pictured, dunking the ball, on the cover of the tournament's information guide this season. . . .Mulligan said: "We match up with UCLA pretty well, with the exception of Reggie Miller. We don't have anyone who can match up with him." The job of guarding Miller will fall to 6-8 sophomore forward Wayne Engelstad.