Surf's up and so is Maryland. The Terrapins are sporting T-shirts and aviator shades and Lefty Driesell is dressed in ambition.
Maryland meets Pepperdine at 5 p.m. (EST) Friday in the opening round of the NCAA West regional at Long Beach Arena, a seaside structure with a view. The Terrapins (18-13), seeded fifth, have one of the more difficult draws here against a Malibu-based Waves team (25-4) that is the only California entry in the tournament, getting in with its West Coast Athletic Conference title.
In other first-round games of the West regional, Nevada-Las Vegas meets Northeast Louisiana, St. John's plays Montana State, the only team in the 64-school national tournament with a losing record, and Auburn meets Arizona.
Maryland has had a less-than-wonderful California experience so far. First, the Terrapins' originally scheduled flight here was canceled Tuesday night. Then they changed hotels, moving from Malibu to Anaheim because they didn't like their accommodations.
They finally settled down to practice today for a Pepperdine team that is largely an unknown quantity to them, and which will have an almost-home advantage. But the Terrapins bordered on carefree despite all the distractions, happy to be in the tournament they were for a while this season in danger of missing.
"We change planes all the time. It wasn't a problem," all-America forward Len Bias said. "It might have been a problem if the plane had crashed."
"We just moved because we wanted to be near Disneyland so we could see Mickey Mouse," Driesell said.
The Terrapins cannot be so flip about Friday's game, however. There is plenty to recommend Pepperdine as an upset candidate. The Waves come in on a nine-game winning streak, having won 18 of their last 20 to finish with their best record since the 27-8 of 1945-46.
This is the Waves' fourth WCAC title and NCAA appearance in five years, and this year's team is a long-term project that has started 58 straight games together and dominated an admittedly weak league. They are led by 6-foot-5 guard Dwayne Polee, a probable first-round NBA draft choice who averages 15.9 points. Eric White, a 6-8 junior, averages 15.3 points, and guard Grant Gondrezick, a 6-5 senior, hits 13.2.
The Waves rank ninth nationally in field goal shooting, 53 percent. In games in which they shot better than 50 percent this season, they went 19-1. Driesell would not say how the Terrapins will contain Polee, but he probably will go with a revolving cast of guards in Jeff Baxter, Keith Gatlin and reserve John Johnson.
"They've won 25 games, so they must be good," Driesell said. "And they're playing on their home court. They're good outside shooters, and they're good and strong inside. They're a contender, let's put it that way."
But Pepperdine never has beaten an Atlantic Coast Conference team, going 0-5. It has been the Waves' fate to draw ACC teams in their last three NCAA first-round games. In 1983, they lost to eventual national champion North Carolina State in double overtime. They fell to Duke, 75-62, last year.
"I must be a charter member of the ACC," Coach Jim Harrick said. "It is beyond comprehension that we've drawn another ACC team. This one is as tough as any . . . I would think we feel like underdogs, but hopefully playing in this city will help offset that. As for Bias, we'll worry more about how we play, not how he plays. We'll try to contain him a little, but if we do our own jobs other things will follow."
Should Maryland advance, its opponent in the second round would be the winner of Nevada-Las Vegas versus underdog Northeast Louisiana. The Terrapins lost to the Runnin' Rebels in early season, 64-63 in overtime.
"I don't want to think about any of that, and I don't want the kids thinking it, either," Driesell said. "I don't even want to know who we would play. As far as I'm concerned, we're playing Pepperdine for the national championship."
St. John's (30-4) has the mismatch of the day against Montana State (14-16), which wormed its way in by winning the Big Sky tournament.
The fourth-ranked Redmen are the top seed in the West behind Walter Berry's 23 points and 11 rebounds a game. The Bobcats will send 7-foot center Greg Walters up against the candidate for player of the year.
The Bobcats, led by 6-4 forward Kral Ferch, averaging 16.3 points, have been the subjects of a number of jokes in Long Beach. But at least St. John's Coach Lou Carnesecca was treating them seriously.
And with a distraction, to boot. The eligibility of 6-11 Marco Baldi, St. John's reserve center from Italy, was being questioned tonight by the NCAA.
St. John's Athletic Director John Kaiser said the NCAA called Tuesday to inquire about expense money Baldi received last summer while trying out for an Italian national team. "It doesn't involve the team, so there is no question of penalties [to the team]," Kaiser said. "It involves an individual player, and it occurred last summer, before he enrolled at St. John's."
A call is expected from NCAA legislative services Friday afternoon before the game. With Baldi, St. John's has only nine players here.
Navy will begin its second consecutive NCAA tournament Friday night in Syracuse, against Tulsa (23-8).
The Midshipmen are 27-4, the most victories in the history of basketball at the Academy. But against teams that won berths in this year's NCAA tournament, Navy is 3-4, including a split with fellow Colonial Athletic Association member Richmond.
"If we play 40 minutes," Navy guard Kylor Whitaker said, "we can play with anybody in the nation."