Although track basically is an individual sport, the annual competition for NCAA team titles frequently rivals the drama of the colleges' more celebrated basketball finals.

Southern Methodist's men and UCLA's women prevailed Saturday night in improbable last-event finishes that left beaten opponents unhappily reviewing six days of ifs, ands and buts.

For Tennessee, a 104-102 loser to SMU, the second-guessing went back to the spring of 1981. That was when the Volunteers signed Roger Kingdom, a high school football star from Georgia, to a Southeastern Conference letter of intent.

Tennessee later informed Kingdom that spring football would take precedence over track, so he chose Pittsburgh and Saturday night, as a Panther, in a shocking upset he won the 110-meter high hurdles over Tennessee's Reggie Towns and Willie Gault. That deprived the Volunteers of five vital points.

Thus, SMU came to the concluding 4x400-meter relay needing a fifth place to win its first outdoor title. Then, when leadoff man Leslie Brooks pulled a muscle and struggled home in 48.4, a full 15 meters behind the seventh-place runner, it appeared Tennessee would be celebrating anyway.

There was a final act to this melodrama, however, with Frank Merriwell heroics from the other three SMU runners, Russell Carter (45.1), Eric Josjo (45.4) and Rod Jones (44.3) bringing the Mustangs home in fourth place behind record-setting Texas Christian, the winner in 3:02.09.

The UCLA women overcame Florida State, 116 1/2-108, with a 10-point, third-place long jump by Jackie Joyner after the running events had ended. Joyner, who started the Bruins toward their second straight title by winning the heptathlon on Tuesday, leaped to a personal best.

The final women's track event, the 200 meters, had been crucial for UCLA. Florence Griffith, who won the 400 earlier, took second place behind Merlene Ottey of Nebraska and in the process, beat out a Florida State trio that finished 3-4-6.

Ottey made 43 points herself, but Nebraska was third with 106 2/3. Joyner earned 34 points, adding an eighth place in the 100-meter hurdles and running on two fifth-place relay teams.

Although UCLA's squad was composed entirely of U.S.-born athletes, foreigners as usual played a key role in this meet. SMU had two champions from England, triple jumper Keith Connor and hammer thrower Robert Weir, and a third from Sweden, intermediate hurdler Sven Nylander.

Ten of the 19 men's individual events were won by foreign athletes; so were five of the 16 women's events. Jamaicans were responsible for three titles, two by Ottey. England, Iceland, Switzerland and Tanzania claimed two each, with single winners from Canada, Brazil, Ireland and Sweden.

The best performance by a Washington-area athlete--and perhaps the best of the meet--was the collegiate record of 12.84 in the women's 100 hurdles by Tennessee's Benita Fitzgerald, a senior from Dale City, Va.

On the whole, capital-area schools did not enjoy a successful meet. Virginia's John Hinton came closest to victory, as he led the 1,500 meters down the stretch before settling for third.

Taking fourth places were Jill Haworth of Virginia, in the women's 1,500, and Marita Walton of Maryland, in the women's shot put. Oliver Bridges of Howard was fifth in the 400 and anchored the Bison to a sixth-place finish in the 4x400 relay. Ann Bair of Virginia placed fifth in the high jump. SATURDAY RESULTS Events in meters MEN

JAVELIN--1, Einar Vilhjalmsson, Texas, 293-1; 2, Steven Stockton, Northwestern St., 271-10; 3, Roald Bradstock, SMU, 264-7.

SHOT PUT--1, Michael Carter, SMU, 68-7; 2, John Brenner, UCLA, 67-9 3/4; 3, Dean Crouser, Oregon, 67-5 1/2.

400--1, Bertland Cameron, Tex.-El Paso, 44.62; 2, Sunday Uti, Iowa St., 44.96; 3, Sunder Nix, Indiana, 45.29.

TRIPLE JUMP--1, Keith Connor, SMU, 56-7 1/2; 2, Al Joyner, Arkansas St., 55-7; 3, Michael Conley, Arkansas, 55-5.

100--1, Emmitt King, Alabama, 10.15; 2, Calvin Smith, Alabama, 10.16; 3, Terry Scott, Tennessee, 10.23.

1,500--1, Frank O'Mara, Arkansas, 3:40.51; 2, Earl Jones, Eastern Michigan, 3:40.64; 3, John Hinton, Virginia, 3:41.08; 9, Kevin King, Georgetown, 3:43.49.

110 HURDLES--1, Roger Kingdom, Pittsburgh, 13.54; 2, Reggie Towns, Tennessee, 13.63; 3, Willie Gault, Tennessee, 13.63.

5,000--1, Gadamis Shahanga, Tex.-El Paso, 13:54.13; 2, Zaharia Barie, Tex.-El Paso, 13:54.38; 3, Yobes Ondieki, Iowa St., 13:59.18.

1,600 RELAY--1, TCU, 3:02.09 (Allen Ingraham, James Richard, Keith Burnett, David Walker) (meet record; old record 3:02.66, Howard, 1982); 2, Alabama, 3:02.33; 3, Michigan St., 3:02.51.

POLE VAULT--1, Felix Bohni, San Jose St., 18-2 1/2; (meet record; old record 18-2 1/4, Randy Hall, Texas A&M, 1980); 2, Joe Dial, Oklahoma St., 18-2 1/2; 3, Brad Pursley, Abilene Christian, 18-2 1/2.

TEAM SCORES--1, SMU, 104; 2, Tennessee, 102; 3, Alabama, 88; 4, Tex.-El Paso, 84 1/2; 5, Washington St., 66; 6, Oregon, 59 1/2. WOMEN

5,000--1, Betty Jo Springs, N.C. State, 15:51.97 (meet record; old record 15:57.66, Springs, 1983); 2, Kathy Hayes, Oregon, 15:53.73; 3, Wendy Lynn Van Mierlo, Illinois St., 16:06.05.

400 RELAY--1, Florida St. (Angela Wright, Marita Payne, Brenda Cliette, Randy Givens), 42.94 (collegiate record; old record 43.52, Florida St., 1983); 2, Nebraska, 43.44; 3, Tennessee, 43.84.

400--1, Florence Griffith, UCLA, 50.94 (meet record; old record 51.71, Cathy Rattray, Tennessee, 1982); 2, Easter Gabriel, Prairie View A&M, 50.99; 3, Merlene Ottey, Nebraska, 51.12.

800--1, Joetta Clark, Tennessee, 2:02.28 (meet record; old record 2:02.90, Delisa Walton, Tennessee, 1982); 2, Tina Krebs, Clemson, 2:03.01; 3, Lee Ann Vanlandingham, LSU, 2:04.09; 8, Jeanette Kelly, Virginia, 2:07.56.

HIGH JUMP--1, Disa Gisladottir, Alabama, 6-1 1/2 (meet record; old record 6-1 1/4, Gisladottir, 1982); 2, Wendy Markham, Florida St., 6-1 1/2; 3, Katrena Johnson, Arizona, 6-1 1/2; 5, Ann Bair, Virginia, 5-11 1/4.

100 HURDLES--1, Benita Fitzgerald, Tennessee, 12.84 (meet record; old record 13.13, Fitzgerald, 1982); 2, Kim Turner, Tex.-El Paso, 12.95; 3, Rhonda Blanford, Nebraska, 13.45.

200--1, Merlene Ottey, Nebraska, 22.39 (ties meet record of Florence Griffith, UCLA, 1982); 2, Florence Griffith, UCLA, 22.49; 3, Randy Givens, Florida St., 22.60.

DISCUS--1, Leslie Denit, Arizona St., 209-10 (meet record; old record 202-0, Meg Ritchie, Arizona, 1982); 2, Carol Cady, Stanford, 204-9; 3, Meg Ritchie, Arizona, 196-9.

LONG JUMP--1, Carol Lewis, Houston, 21-11 3/4 (meet record; old record 21-9 1/2, Jennifer Innis, Los Angeles St., 1982); 2, Tudie McKnight, Kansas, 21-7 1/4; 3, Jackie Joyner, UCLA, 21-7 1/4; 8, Brenda Bailey, Howard, 19-10 1/4.

TEAM SCORES--1, UCLA, 116 1/2; 2, Florida St., 108; 3, Nebraska, 106 2/3; 4, Tennessee, 87; 5, Oregon, 66; 6, Stanford, 60.