Then Coach Bobby Dye of the California State-Bakersfield basketball team first figured out he might have to face the University of the District of Columbia in the NCAA tournament, he called an old friend.
UDC had lost to Pepperdine, a highly ranked Division I school in California, by one point early in the season. Dye asked Pepperdine Coach Jim Herrick for an evaluation.
Herrick told him UDC's 7-foot center, Earl Jones, had scored 38 points against Pepperdine, doing "anything he wanted to do any time he wanted to do it."
Dye hung up fast. "He wasn't any help at all. All he did was scare us to death."
Bakersfield went on to win its last 10 games of the season and finished 25-4. Now the showdown with UDC is imminent. The teams meet Friday in the semifinals of the NCAA Division II national championship (WOL-1450 at 6). The winner advances to the national title game Saturday against either Florida Southern or Kentucky Wesleyan.
Dye has since done some firsthand research. He sent his assistant, Steve Moeller, cross-country last weekend to watch UDC beat No. 1-ranked Cheyney State for the right to come to Springfield.
Moeller's report: "They could have put Cheyney away any time they wanted to. If they played 10 times, UDC wins nine. So if Cheyney was No. 1, you have to figure UDC is the team to beat here."
If UDC is to be upset, Bakersfield is a reasonable choice to do it. The California team's entire season has been an upset. A year ago the Roadrunners were 6-20 and cellar-dwellers in their conference.
That was before Dye arrived. He brought in four junior college transfers, and, by his own description, "some luck. We got off to a good start, won a few close games and gained some confidence."
They finished the regular season 22-4, then had the good fortune to play all three postseason games at home, beating San Francisco State, Cal Poly and North Dakota, none by more than three points.
Dye is no stranger to postseason championships. He led Cal State-Fullerton into the quarterfinals of the Division I NCAA tournament in 1978, losing a bid to make the final four by "one trip down the courts." But Fullerton had disappointing records the next two years. Dye quit and sat out last season before signing on with Bakersfield.
The Roadrunners play a patterned offense, unlike run-and-gun UDC, and have the third-best defensive record in the nation in Division II, giving up an average of 54.2 points per game.
They play man-to-man defense almost exclusively and will do so against UDC, Dye said, despite the dangers of one-on-one scoring threats Jones and forward Michael Britt, who have a combined average of more than 47 points per game.
Bakersfield's offensive strength is muscular 6-6 forward Wayne McDaniel, averaging 19 points per game. After that, the burden is spread evenly among five or six players.
That worries UDC Coach Wil Jones. "A team like that with a lot of guys who can hurt you, you don't know who to concentrate on," Jones said.
If anything, the UDC-Bakersfield contest could be another Cheyney State-type game. UDC guard Kenny Payne proposed that idea, contending that, "on paper they look a lot like Cheyney."
Indeed, Bakersfield will depend on a high-scoring power forward--McDaniel--much as Cheyney looked to all-America George Melton. The matchup at center will pit Jones against a much slower, low-scoring 6-9 senior named Joe Evans, who averages only four rebounds per game.
Workouts at the Civic Center today by both teams seemed to confirm the expected game plans. Wil Jones spent about three-fourths of his allotted hour working on fast-break and pressure defense drills. Dye concentrated on patterned offenses and did not have his men run at all.
Jones said his plan is "to blow them out in the first five minutes," which, of course, is every coach's ambition.