The crusade was finally over. UCLA, the team that ruined De Paul's dream of a national championship last March, had been humiliated, 93-77, on national television.

Now, Joe Meyer was worried.

"All month long people that know our team have been saying the game we're going to lose is Georgetown," said Meyer, who, as his father Ray's top assistant coach, has played a major role in making the Blue Demons a power. "I knew the kids would be ready to play today. That was no problem. But now, we have to convince them that if they aren't ready to play Monday, they can lose.

"Every time someone says Georgetown is the game we're going to lose, we make sure the kids know about it," Meyer continued. "We're just going to keep telling them that the next two days."

Monday, in the opening round of San Diego's Cabrillo Classic, top-ranked De Paul (9-0) will face a Georgetown team still struggling to find its identity this season following the departure of stars Craig Shelton and John Duren.

Playing the Demons 48 hours after their emotion-filled stomping of UCLA may seem like an advantage for the Hoyas (6-3). De Paul's people say no way, letdowns are out this year.

"Last season when we got to be No. 1 and all the attention started, we weren't ready for it," said Mark Aguirre, the catalyst of this superb team. "It had never been that way at De Paul before. We all got kind of caught in it. Now, attention and people around are just part of playing basketball at De Paul. We're used to it now. We can handle it."

Last winter Ray Meyer fumed constanly because his players were cocky and didn't believe they could lose. Once, he publicly called them nitwits after a narrow escape. On the bench he told them again and again that they had to play with more emotion, that they couldn't just show up, throw their jerseys on the court and win.

As long as the team won, the coach's admonitions were largely ignored. But then the 26-2 season ended suddenly, shockingly, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament with the loss to UCLA.

"It was," said Aguirre, "the toughest lesson any of us ever learned in our lives."

This De Paul team still oozes cockiness, still has a tendency to put the engine on cruise control against the weaker team until it is time for the putaway punch. That worries both Meyers.

"They're still cocky," Joe Meyer said. "We still have to get in their ears sometimes. But this team isn't afraid to show emotion. Last year I think we were a little too cool. There was a tendency to say, 'Let's just play hard, do our jobs.'

"That doesn't always make it. This year, they're out their hugging and slapping and screaming. Mark (Aguirre) was screaming on the bus all the way over today. That never happened in the past.

"I think these guys realize what they missed by losing to UCLA last year and they don't want to do it again. That alone makes us a better team."

But that isn't all.

The last two years, Ray Meyer went to the bench only when a game was over or foul trouble forced a move. Now he has enough confidence in 6-4 sophomore Bernard Randolph and 6-1 senior Dennis Moore to rotate them with the starters. Randolph, who struggled last season, has developed into a smooth, solid player and has made Teddy Grubbs, whom he usually spells, a better player by giving him rest and competing with him for playing time.

That along with the maturing of Terry Cummings at center and the superb floor leadership of Clyde Bradshaw, has helped make the Blue Demons even better than a year ago.

Still, the centerpiece of this team is the fabulous Aguirre. They don't call the 6-7 junior, "Muffin Man," anymore; he lost 30 pounds in the offseason. The weight loss has made Aguirre a better-rounded player, quicker defensively and on the boards.

"He's doing the things now that I thought he needed to start doing to be a truly great, complete player," UCLA Coach Larry Brown said. "He misses a couple of shots, he doesn't panic, he just throws a couple of passes. He's just one of those special kids who can do everything."

A year ago, amidst all the speculation that he would turn pro at the end of the season, the Meyers didn't worry much. They didn't think Aguirre was mature enough then to handle the pro life and knew he was bright enough to realize that. Now, it is generally acknowledged that Aguirre is ready, not just physically, but emotionally.

If the Blue Demons can go on and present Ray Meyer with the national title he has dreamed of for 39 years as De Paul's coach, it is likely that Aguirre will turn pro and the 67-year-old coach will retire.

Certainly, the departure of Meyer-Aguirre would mark the end of an era at De Paul.But the small Vincentian school, which almost gave up basketball 10 years ago and only this year moved from 5,300-seat Alumni Hall to the 18,000-seat Horizon, is likely to remain at the center of the national picture anyway.

Last spring, after several schools made overtures to Joe Meyer, De Paul announced that he would succeed his father as head coach whenever the elder Meyer retires.

As his father tells anyone who will listen, it is Joe Meyer who brought Gary Garland, Ron Norwood, Dave Corzine, Bradshaw, Aguirre and Cummings into the program. At 32, Joe Meyer, who, like everyone else calls his father, "Coach," and generally refers to himself as "Meyer's kid," is one of the brighter young coaching minds in the country.

With his square glasses, dark hair and three-piece suits, Joe Meyer looks more like an accountant than a basketball coach. But he has helped his father turn De Paul into a juggernaut.