Ray Meyer likes to end De Paul practices by standing at midcourt and shooting twohanded set shots -- just for fun.
After 37 years at De Paul, the Chicago university where he has coached the Blue Demons to 595 victories, tops for an active NCAA basketball coach, the 65-year-old Mayer is enjoying himself more this season than ever before. And that twohanded set shot is just about the only outdated feature of his team.
By Running on offense, pressing on defense and never quitting, De Paul has made it to the West Regional final of the national college championship torunament. The Blue Demons meet might UCLA at Marriott Center at Brigham Young University Saturday at 4 p.m. (WRC-TV-4).
"We're just happy to be rubbing elbows with the elite of college basketball," the cherubic Meyer said. "If we win this game, I will have fulfilled one of my biggest dreams -- to get to the final four. I didn't say win it. I just want to get there."
Ironically, the Blue Demons, 24-4, started their season Nov. 25 at Pauley Pavilion where UCLA blew them out, 108-85.
"UCLA will not run us out of the gym like they did last time," Meyer said, "because we are not the same basketball team."
They are not the same team as last year, either, when De Paul was 27-3 and made it to the Midwest Regional final before losing by 20 to Notre Dame. Those Blue Demons played a deliberate, controlled game designed to get the ball inside to 6-foot-11 Dave Corzine.
Corzine graduated to the Washington Bullets, and when he left, so did Meyer's conservative offense. With only two starters -- Gary Garland and Curtis Watkins -- returning, De Paul, to most everyone's surprise, now runs and guns as well as any team left in this tournament.
Meyer also likes to use only five players: Watkins, Garland, freshman Mark Aguirre, James Mitchem and Clyde Bradshaw.
Against Marquette in the semifinals Thursday night, Bill Madey was the only De Paul reserve to get into the game, playing 10 minutes in place of Mitchem. He didn't take a shot, or get a rebound.
The Blue Demons came from nine points back in the first half and eight in the final half and eight in the final 8 1/2 minutes to win, 62-56. Aguirre and Watkins each had 19 points, Garland 15.
"He (Meyer) used to jump up and holler at us all the time," said Garland, "but he has adapted to us and lets us do what we can do. He is still the one who organizes everything, though, and he is the one who keeps our heads together. He cares and he loves us."
The Bruins, 25-4, have an incredible 55-13 NCAA playoff record and are in the West Regional final for the 14th time in 18 years. The Bruins have not won the national championship since 1975, however, and are eager to show they can win it again, even without a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or a Bill Walton.
"My centers are primarily forwards," said Coach Gary Cunningham. "If we had a 6-10 or 6-11 guy who could play a low post, Gig Sims and Darrell Alums, my centers now, would be forwards. The only reason we play a high-post offinse is because we don't have that big center."
The Bruins have the guards, though. Roy Hamilton scored a college career high 36 points and had seven assists in the Bruins' 99-81 semifinal victory over San Francisco Thrusday night. Long-shooting Brad Holland added 22 points as UCLA hit 73 percent in the second half and 60 percent for the game.
Shooting has been UCLA's strength all year. For the season, the Bruins are making 55.6 percent, an NCAA record.