The twain shall meet tonight, when the little Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. sends one of its top bulldogs, Fresno State, against the pride of the lordly Pacific 10--well, the only Pac-10 team left playing, anyway--UCLA.
It took the NIT and a quarterfinal-round game to bring them together for the first time, tonight at 7:35 in Pauley Pavilion, a site that makes the Bruins favorites. In Fresno's Selland Arena, where the Bulldogs went 15-1 this season and are 103-12 in eight years under Boyd Grant, that wouldn't have been the case.
In Selland, sold out since 1979, where the Santa Clara coaches recently resorted to waving printed signs to call plays, Fresno would have been favored. UNLV's Jerry Tarkanian watched the Bulldogs drop New Mexico there Tuesday and said he'd like to see the Bruins come in there. In Tarkanian's last two trips, he lost by margins of 11 and 25.
The site was selected by the NIT committee Wednesday night, even though Fresno had sold out both of its NIT home games, while the Bruins were playing to less than 50% of capacity.
NIT Executive Director Peter Carlesimo said from his New Jersey office that tournament officials do not discuss decisions on pairings.
That does not prevent them from being discussed. Columnist Bob McCarthy wrote in the Fresno Bee Friday that the tournament "appears to be wired for UCLA."
McCarthy further wrote: "The word filtering north from Bruin boosters the last couple of days is that UCLA was 'guaranteed' three home games for agreeing to participate in this year's NIT."
Indeed, in an off-hand remark after UCLA's opening NIT victory over Montana, Coach Walt Hazzard said the Bruins had been told they could stay home for the first two games because they were taking final exams. Asked about it later, Hazzard said he knew nothing about the decision-making process.
UCLA Athletic Director Peter Dalis, who does, says that the Bruins did ask about it.
Said Dalis: "There were no guarantees. The NIT wouldn't give me a guarantee.
"I told them, in order to make the best case for my faculty committee, we needed to play as many games as we could at home, because we're in the middle of finals. They told me they had a committee of six, and they couldn't give me a guarantee. We'd have to take them one at a time.
"Every time I would call, they'd tell me they couldn't guarantee it. Then I'd call back to find out who our opponent was, and they'd say we had the game.
"I don't feel bad about it. Historically, I believe you'll find that Michigan (last season) and Oregon State (1983) all played three games at home in the NIT. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Indiana has played all its games at home (Indiana, Louisville and UCLA all will play three NIT home games this season)."
Fresno fans have settled for buying up all available parts of Pauley. Their allotment of 4,300 tickets went on sale at 10 a.m. Thursday and was gone by mid-afternoon.
More tickets were purchased through Ticketron. Other fans were reported planning to drive south Friday night to get in line for the opening of the ticket office this morning. In Fresno, estimates of the size of the Red Wave in Pauley go all the way to 7,000. That would leave room for only 6,000 Bruin fans.
Then they'll play the game.
The teams prefer different speeds, UCLA's 45 rpm to Fresno's 33. The first struggle will be to see who controls the pace.
"I would hope so," Grant said. "There had better be (a struggle). If there isn't, look for me to leave early."
Hazzard has a lot of lean, athletic players who had scholarship offers from all over and can run and jump. They play a scrappy man-to-man and try to fast-break.
Grant will start one junior college product, three transfers and a European. That is thought to have been one of Grant's best coaching efforts, since he had to replace Ron Anderson and Bernard Thompson, his matched pair of 6-foot 8 forwards who ran No. 1 and 2 in scoring and rebounding for two seasons and led Fresno to the 1983 NIT title.
Thompson was picked in the first round of the NBA draft by Portland, and Anderson went as the first pick of the second to Cleveland. Grant replaced them with 6-foot-8, 225-pound Scott Barnes and 6-foot-8, 210-pound forward Jos Kuipers of Hoensbroek, the Netherlands, the team's second-leading scorer.
What really counts is what Fresno does to the Bruin offense. In eight years, Grant has had four teams, including this one, that were No. 1 in the nation in defense.
Fresno's basic defense is a matchup zone, which tries not to concede the outside shots an ordinary zone will. That may be helpful against UCLA, which has bombed zones all season.
Hazzard sends Reggie Miller, and his everything-between-Beverly Hills-and-Santa Monica range, to the right wing. He puts Montel Hatcher in the left corner, where Hatcher's 40-inch vertical leap makes it simple for him to get shots over the top. Both are one pass away from Nigel Miguel at the point. Then Hazzard waits to see if the zone can stretch that far. If it can't, the Bruins should win a weekend in New York.
If it can, you Pac-10 fans are in for a lot of grief.