UCLA is sitting in third place with 53 points after the first day — but the Bruins are poised to strike.
Three-time defending champion Washington State compiled 69 points Friday, but Cougar Coach John Chaplin has virtually conceded the meet to UCLA. Oregon totaled 68 points with some strong performances and has an outside chance of defeating the Bruins.
USC didn't figure to be among the contenders and the Trojans faltered on a cool afternoon, helping the Bruins in the process.
There were seven final events held Friday, with qualifying trials in others. The Bruins didn't miss a step.
"We did extremely well," UCLA Coach Bob Larsen said. "We qualified the people we wanted to and we had a better overall day than Washington State. We feel very good about our position. Point-wise, we are where we wanted to be after the first day and we looked good doing it. I feel confident about tomorrow."
The Bruins figure to score heavily in every race from 100 through 400 meters Saturday and they'll pick up points in other events.
Seven finals were held Friday, and Washington State athletes won four of them. But the Cougars had a setback when Gabriel Tiacoh was disqualified from a 200 heat for a false start and steeplechaser Nathan Morris finished only fifth while projected for second place.
"We got our 71 points (69 actually) and we'll probably wind up with 105 which will be second or third," Chaplin said. "UCLA has too much depth. I didn't want to run everyone to death because we have the NCAA meet to worry about.
"We needed some help from Southern Cal in the sprints but they were going down like rockets. The fun and games are over. Talk to Larsen, he's the winner."
The Trojans got off to a bad start in a 400-meter relay heat when the baton pass from Antonio Manning to Mike Dexter was mishandled, the stick falling to the track. By the time it was retrieved, the Trojans were out of the race.
Manning qualified for the 100-meter final, but later failed to show up for his 200 heat. It turned out he has a hamstring injury and won't be able to run in the 100 final today. The Trojans had already lost their star sprinter, Pancho Morales, who figured earlier to win the 100 and place high in the 200. He has been hobbled by shin splints.
With Morales and Manning out and the USC sprint relay team bungling an opportunity to qualify, the Bruins were upgraded in the sprints and short relay.
The Bruins did everything to help themselves Friday.
Mike Powell won the long jump as expected with a leap of 26 feet, 5 inches. Mark Junkermann got second in the 3,000 meter steeplechase behind Olympic champion Julius Korir of WSU, who won in 8:28.91, and UCLA's Tom Grewe was a surprise fourth.
"It was a calculated risk whether to run Junkermann in the 1,500 or steeplechase," Larsen said. "I thought he could get second in the steeple, but I didn't think Grewe would finish as high as fourth."
UCLA also got help from Kevin Young, who got third in the long jump, worth six points on the 10-8-6-4-2-1 scoring format.
Other winners were WSU's Tore Gustafsson in the hammer throw at 248-1; WSU's Dimitrios Koutsoukis in the shotput at 64-11; Oregon's Tim Canfield in the pole vault with a winning height of 17-4 1/2; WSU's Jan Johansson in the javelin at 239-4 and Oregon's Mike McMonigal in 10,000 meters in with a 29:28.77 effort.
The Ducks made the most of their efforts in almost every event. Oregon had a 1-2 finish in the 10,000 and pole vault, got a second place in the shotput, long jump and hammer throw and a third in the steeplechase.
"UCLA is still the favorite," Oregon Coach Bill Dellinger said. "They've got a lot points coming in the sprints and hurdles. The Bruins will be tough to catch, but they've got a couple of pretty good teams behind them."
Larsen said it was important for the Bruins to get off to a good start to carry over the momentum for the second day of the meet.
Asked if he believes the Bruins would win the meet for the first time since 1982, the UCLA coach said: "Nothing is for sure in athletics, but we did everything we expected to do today."