But the Bruins wanted to win with a flourish and that's what they did Saturday night at Bernie Moore Stadium.
UCLA's Danny Everett, running with a hamstring injury, held off SMU's Roy Martin on the anchor leg as Coach Bob Larsen's team set a collegiate record of 3:00.55.
With the 10 points awarded for first place, UCLA finished with 81 to 28 for runner-up Texas. The 53-point spread was the largest margin of victory in the 66-year history of the meet. The previous high was 48 by UCLA in 1966.
It was a perfect ending to a perfect season. UCLA was undefeated in dual meets, won the Pacific 10 meet with a runaway 176 points and then routed the best collegiate teams in the country.
Everett arrived at the interview tent with an ice pack on his right leg.
"It was win, or burst," he said, referring to the condition of his leg.
Earlier, Everett was a strong second behind Ohio State's Butch Reynolds in a hot 400 meters race. Reynolds set a meet record of 44.12 seconds, while Everett charged past a fading Roddie Haley of Arkansas to record a personal best of 44.47.
A few minutes before the 1,600 relay, Larsen said that his Bruins were fortunate, not even suffering a hangnail in the four-day meet.
Then, Everett's hamstring tightened on him, but he wasn't going to pull up, even though the Bruins had wrapped up the championship.
"It started hurting on the first turn," he said. "I slowed down, but it was evident that Martin wasn't going to challenge me until later. If he had known I was hurting, I'm sure he would have challenged me earlier.
"Off the second curve, he (Martin) picked it up, and I just took a chance and went for it. It (the hamstring) was hurting bad enough that had it been a dual meet, I would have stopped."
As it was, Everett was timed in 44.9 for his leg.
The Bruins, running from Lane 1, didn't get off to an auspicious start. Anthony Washington was fifth after the first leg, then Kevin Young weaved through traffic with a 44.7 leg to pull his team into third place.
That's when Henry Thomas took off. He charged ahead with a blazing 44-second third leg, providing Everett with about a two-meter lead. Everett kept most of it as Martin brought SMU home second in 3:00.81.
UCLA's 3:00.55 broke both the collegiate record of 3:00.78 and the meet record of 3:00.84.
The women's portion of the meet was much closer. Alabama won the 1,600 relay and apparently took the team title. But its team was disqualified for passing out of the zone on the second exchange.
Therefore, LSU won the championship with 62 points to 53 for runner-up Alabama. USC was moved up to first in the 1,600 relay after the disqualification and was a strong third overall with 51 points.
The USC men didn't fare as well. The Trojans sent only a token team and settled for 6 1/2 points.
The UCLA men had 45 points going into the final night of the competition and didn't falter.
Everett and Jim Banich got seconds in the 400 and shotput, respectively; Mike Marsh was third in the 100; Steve Kerho was seventh in the high hurdles; Dave Wilson got a seventh in the hammer throw, and then the 1,600 relay team won in style.
UCLA has come a long way since Larsen became coach at the outset of the 1985 season. His Bruins finished in a tie for 58th that year with USC, each school getting only 3 points. UCLA moved up to eighth in 1986 with 29 points and then poured it on Saturday night.
What will such success do for the low-key but droll Larsen?
"When we reached 60 points, I had a transformation," he said. "I was a litle bit better looking, had a better personality and became a whole lot smarter.
"Our people came through so well that I kept asking myself, 'When do I pay the devil?' "
Larsen added that he'll make only short speeches at banquets later because he won't have to make any excuses why his team lost this meet or that.
The 400 was the feature race of the evening and it lived up to expectations.
Reynolds had a slight lead coming off the final turn but was challenged by Haley, who inched ahead of the Ohio State runner with about 80 meters left. Then Reynolds put it into another gear and went on to win.
Everett, who had run a smooth race, then went by the faltering Haley to get second.
The UCLA athlete said he didn't attack the final curve as he should have, but he was satisfied with his time and finish.
Reynolds is the the world's best quarter-miler now, and Everett was asked if he could be beaten.
"You can try to pull him out of his race, but then you might pull yourself out of your own race," he said. "It will be a hot quarter at TAC."
Everett was referring to The Athleltic Congress meet June 23-27 at San Jose. The same quarter-milers that ran here will be joined by Antonio McKay, Alonzo Babers and Darrell Robinson.
"When you get a field like this together, a world record is certainly possible," Reynolds said, "and you can't count any quarter-miler out of it."
The world record has been an enduring one, 43.86 by Lee Evans at high altitude in the 1968 Olympic Games at Mexico City.
Other achievements Saturday, on an evening when the humidity wasn't oppressive:
--California's Sheila Hudson established a world outdoor best in the women's triple jump with a mark of 45 feet 2 1/2 inches.
--TCU's Raymond Stewart beat Pittsburgh's Lee McRae in the 100 in 10.14 seconds, with Marsh getting third in 10.28.
--LSU's Eric Reid was a surprise winner in the 110-meter high hurdles with a time of 13.51.
--UCLA's Gail Devers, who won four individual events at the Pac-10 meet, had to settle for second in the 100 behind Georgia's Gwen Torrence. Torrence won in 11.25, with Devers at 11.30. Devers said she had trouble with her starting blocks in a qualifying race and the problem persisted in the final.
There were also some lowlights. Texas A&M;'s Randy Barnes, who was favored to win the shotput, didn't get off a legal throw.
As for the Bruins, their only mishap was planned. Many of them jumped into the steeplechase water jump pit when the meet ended, after soaking their coach first.
NCAA Track Notes Fred LaPlante, USC's women's coach, praised Wendy Brown for a courageous performance. She twisted her ankle while triple jumping, then rushed over to compete in the 800 in the heptathlon. After the 800, she had one jump remaining in the triple jump and got off a leap of 44-2 that turned out to be good for third place. Her teammate, Yvette Bates, finished second with a jump of 44-7 1/2 . . . Brown wound up fifth in the heptathlon with 5,681 points. Houston's Jolanda Jones was the winner with 6,068 points . . . UCLA Coach Bob Larsen noted that his team is primarily made up of athletes who live within a 75-mile radius of UCLA, without any foreigners. "I don't have any ax to grind (on foreign athletes). I'm just making an observation," Larsen said . . . UCLA has now won three men's NCAA titles this year--gymnastics, volleyball and track and field. The Bruins have a total of 51 NCAA championships, closing in on USC with 63. . . . Highlights of the meet will be shown by CBS-TV Saturday June 20 at 4 p.m. PDT.