SYRACUSE, N.Y. — No matter what it might have accomplished to this point, UCLA's basketball team knows that it will ultimately be remembered for how it fares in the NCAA tournament.
Fair enough, say the Bruins, because after reaching the round of 16 last March, they expect to fare at least as well this year.
It is a confident UCLA team that will play Penn State in the first round of the East Regional today in the Carrier Dome.
Whereas the Bruins were only slightly less surprised than the rest of the country when they upset Kansas last season in the second round of the NCAA tournament, advancing to the East Regional semifinals at East Rutherford, N.J., this time they are prepared for an extended stay in the East.
"Our expectations are high," said Darrick Martin, anticipating a return to the Meadowlands and the regional semifinals next week. "We want to get to the Final Four and we believe it's an attainable goal, especially with the draw we got."
UCLA, seeded No. 4 in the East, begins its quest against a team that hasn't won an NCAA tournament game since 1955, hasn't even played in the NCAA tournament since 1965 and probably wouldn't have made it this year if it hadn't won the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament.
And Penn State, which finished in a five-way tie for third place in the Atlantic 10 regular-season race, got to play the tournament final on its home court at State College, Pa., after winning a coin flip with George Washington, which also lost the game, 81-75.
Still, the Nittany Lions (20-10) may be the kind of team that could present problems to the Bruins (23-8), who have shown a tendency to grow impatient against teams that milk the shot clock and move the ball inside in the style favored by Penn State.
If the national image of the Bruins is that of a group of underachievers, more interested in inflating their scoring averages than in deflating those of their opponents, the image of the Nittany Lions is quite the opposite.
Penn State has been compared in style to Stanford, another so-called "blue-collar" team that has given the Bruins fits, winning five of its past six games against UCLA.
"They're a team that has an honest reputation," said Coach Mike Jarvis of George Washington, whose team defeated Stanford in December and lost twice in three games against Penn State. "Most teams aren't as good as they're supposed to be. (Penn State is) better than they're supposed to be. So, in essence, Penn State is more dangerous than most teams.
"They're a team of overachievers. They're the kind of team that can beat teams that think they're as good as their clippings."
Jarvis expects the Nittany Lions to keep the game close.
"They're very disciplined, very patient and lately they've been shooting the ball well," he said. "When they shoot well, they're a very dangerous team because they do such a good job of getting the ball inside. If you don't take them out of their rhythm, they'll be as patient as they have to be.
"They'll play very solid defense--every possession. They're just not going to give you anything. You're going to have to earn every basket you get."
The Bruins don't seem to be overly concerned.
Until reporters set him straight this week, Bruin forward Tracy Murray apparently had Penn State confused with Penn, saying that about the only thing he knew about the Nittany Lions was that they competed in the Ivy League.
He was told that Penn State, which will compete as an independent next season, will join the Big Ten the following season.
"So, they have scholarship players?" Murray asked.
Yes, they do.
A pretty good football team, too.
And, if it can beat UCLA, Penn State would have a basketball team that would gain some notoriety of its own while ending the Bruins' season long before they expect it to end.
UCLA traveled farther for its first-round game than any other team in the NCAA tournament, flying 2,345 miles on Wednesday. . . . If the Bruins beat Penn State, their second-round opponent will be Mississippi State (20-8), making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1963, or Eastern Michigan (24-6). . . . UCLA's combination of Don MacLean and Tracy Murray is the highest-scoring forward duo in the tournament. MacLean is averaging 23.3 points, Murray 21.4.
While UCLA worked out Thursday in the Carrier Dome, a man in a USC sweat shirt whistled "Conquest," the Trojans' fight song. . . . Penn State's leading scorer is DeRon Hayes, a 6-6 All-Atlantic 10 Conference forward who is averaging 15 points. James Barnes, a 6-7 forward, averages 12.6 points and 7.4 rebounds, point guard Freddie Barnes 12.7 points.
UCLA's Darrick Martin said he saw Penn State play on television this season, but didn't watch the Nittany Lions too closely. "I was watching (Temple's) Mark Macon," he said. . . . Penn State Coach Bruce Parkhill on his team's style: "We'll take a (fast) break when we can get it. It's not like we're going to hold the basketball. We're an opportunistic team."
UCLA Coach Jim Harrick said of the Bruins, whose starting lineup includes two third-year starters, two second-year starters and no seniors: "It's an experienced team but not a mature team. That bothers me." . . . What is UCLA's national image? "All offense," said Bruin guard Gerald Madkins. "Not in the framework of a Loyola (Marymount), but along those lines. We'll give up a basket to get a basket. I think in the tournament, we can prove that to be false."
UCLA senior Keith Owens, a starter Sunday in his final game at Pauley Pavilion, will be replaced in the starting lineup by sophomore Mitchell Butler, a starter in all but four games this season. . . . Julius Michalik, a 6-7 forward from Czechoslovakia, made an official recruiting visit to UCLA this week.
at Syracuse, N.Y.
UCLA (23-8) vs. Penn State (20-10)