Ho hum. Now that DePaul has won its national championship, or rather its national retribution championship, the Blue Demons can go back to pouting and sulking and squeaking past the Maines and Wagners on the schedule. And acting, you know, really cool. Like they act when they don't care. Or when they aren't challenged. Or when they're not on national television. Or when they're not playing UCLA.
Over the last season and a third, in which DePaul has been just about the best college team in the country, the Blue Demons also have been the most enigmatic. Perhaps the word is lazy. How else to explain those embarrassing escapes by six points over North Texas State, by four over Loyola and by eight over Northwestern in No. 1-ranked DePaul's previous three games? But last Saturday afternoon Coach Ray Meyer's men had all their ducks in a row—the motive, the inclination, the TV spotlight and the opponent, especially the opponent—and the end result was nothing so much as a catharsis. In an absolute blowout of a very good (and No. 3-ranked) UCLA team by the score of 93-77, DePaul finally proved it is both as versatile and as talented as everyone thought all along.
When it was all over at the Rosemont Horizon outside Chicago, Mark Aguirre, the DePaul ringleader whose many moods seem to determine his team's behavioral pattern, swore that "revenge" was not involved in the beheading of the Bruins. "We just wanted to see if UCLA could beat us when we weren't in a slump, when we all were clicking," he said. "If they could, fine."
But UCLA couldn't. Not so fine. Not the way the Bruins did last March in the second round of the NCAA tournament when the Blue Demons were slumping and not clicking (read: nonchalanting) and so were upset 77-71. That defeat denied DePaul, then also rated No. 1, a chance at the national title they had been odds-on to win and dealt Aguirre what he calls "the biggest hurt of my life."
But this time the outcome was different. And the way Aguirre went about his 23 points and nine rebounds; the way Center Terry Cummings went about his 19 and eight; the way a slick-shooting stranger named Bernard Randolph came off the heretofore undistinguished DePaul bench to add 14 and six of his own; and the way the entire home team shot 56.6%, exploded for leads of 14, 18 (it was 47-29 at the half) and 23 points, then mugged, hugged and high-fived it all over the place, one could sense a lust for vengeance as well as a passion rarely seen at the college by the El tracks. "That's Christmas. I love you," Aguirre kept screaming as he put a Russian embrace on his venerable coach.
"I don't think I've ever seen a DePaul team so emotional—ever," said the 67-year-old Meyer, who has seen a few games in 38 years of coaching.
While certainly not new—the two schools first played 40 years ago, even before UCLA invented the cheerstarlet (her name, eat your heart out, boys, is Julie Hayek)—the DePaul- UCLA rivalry has only smoked up in the last three years, beginning when Aguirre came on the scene as a freshman and dunked in All-America David Greenwood's face. The Bruins won that December 1978 game, but DePaul came back to bounce UCLA out of the NCAAs. Then last season the teams exchanged those favors. " UCLA was always the dream school to me," Aguirre says. "Now it's the dynamite rival."
While DePaul had been away from home enough to be "lobbied out," as Assistant Coach Joe Meyer, the second of Ray's three sons, put it, this game was to be UCLA's first on the road. Unless one counted an 11,000-mile, round-trip foray to Japan. UCLA Coach Larry Brown didn't, even though the Bruins played their best game in demolishing Temple 73-49 at Tokyo's Yoyogi National Gymnasium. "We're still awfully young," Brown said. " Tokyo wasn't exactly a hostile environment. The Japanese presented us with new uniforms."
UCLA practiced on Christmas Day in Los Angeles, where the temperature was a record 85�. At 7:30 the next morning the Bruins worked out again, then flew to frigid Chicago, where it must have seemed like minus 85.
Brown was less concerned about the cold than about Aguirre, whom he had clashed with while working as an assistant coach on the Olympic team. Once Brown yanked Aguirre out of a game when the player embarrassed him with backtalk. "But Mark's a different guy now," Brown said. "He's happy with 18 points a game; he passes, helps out on defense, does the little things, plays the whole floor. I thought the difference between us and Louisville in the championship game last year was that we both had role players but they had the stone star [ Darrell Griffith] who bailed them out when it counted. That's what Mark does for DePaul."