The two bald men traded hair jokes, cuffed each other affectionately and told a few lies about their teams. They followed the usual protocol whenever Maryland meets Nevada-Las Vegas and Lefty Driesell meets Jerry Tarkanian, only it was exaggerated by their presence in the second round of the NCAA West regional.
The Terrapins (19-13) will play the Runnin' Rebels (32-4) Sunday at Long Beach Arena (WDCA-TV-20, 7 p.m. EST). It is an appropriately laid-back setting for these two, Driesell of the neatly trimmed sideburns and Tarkanian of the cleanly shaven pate.
"We're good old friends," Tarkanian said. "We like to go to the beach together and tan our heads."
So here they are, a couple of coaches with an affinity for each other, and a couple of similarly trigger-happy teams, who will decide who gets to Houston next week in the round of 16. The winner of this game will meet the winner of the matchup between fourth-ranked St. John's (31-4) and Auburn (20-10).
The Terrapins are laissez faire, with a penchant for pushing the ball upcourt, and the Runnin' Rebels are like their name. But there are differences: Tarkanian has been to the Final Four, Driesell hasn't; and the Rebels defeated Maryland once already this season, 64-63, at College Park Dec. 7.
"Yeah, Jerry and I are good friends," Driesell said. "He's got no hair and neither have I. He doesn't put on a lot of airs. But he's been to the Final Four and I haven't, so I was hoping he'd just let us go. I told him I'd buy him a present.
"I told him, 'You win in Vegas and I'll win in College Park.' But he screwed that up, so he owes me one. It's my time to win."
UNLV's victory at College Park came in overtime, on Anthony Jones' jumper. But that was when the Terrapins were searching for a starting five. They went on a 2-8 stretch, lost their first six Atlantic Coast Conference games, and made 11 lineup changes, shuffling the back court with regularity.
Since then, Maryland has won eight of 11, including Friday's 69-64 first-round victory over Pepperdine. UNLV advanced by defeating Northeast Louisiana, 74-51. The Terrapins have a settled, confident back court of Keith Gatlin and Jeff Baxter.
"We played them so early, it doesn't make a difference," Tarkanian said. "They're certainly a different team, and we are, too. When we played them I talked to Lefty and he wasn't sure who their back court was going to be, he was concerned about getting some size for the ACC schedule , and he wasn't sure what their best lineup was."
Lately, UNLV has been troubled by inconsistency in its back court. Off-guard Freddie Banks, the leading scorer averaging 18.1 points, has suffered a severe shooting slump. He averages 43 percent for the season, but was just two for 10 from the floor against Northeast Louisiana for six points. In the last six games he has shot above 30 percent twice.
"Truthfully, I'm a little worried about Freddie," Tarkanian said. "But it wouldn't surprise me at all if he came in tomorrow and wore the nets out. We've probably got him thinking too much right now. He's pressing and we've got to get him to the point where he's just shooting and not concerned about it."
The inside games should be about even, Maryland with all-America Len Bias' 22.9 points, the Rebels with Armon Gilliam (15.9 ppg) and Jones (17.9), a 6-6 transfer from Georgetown. Gilliam, a 6-9, 230-pounder, will be most responsible for Bias defensively. The rest is liable to be a free-for-all.
"The good thing is, if Maryland wins I know a friend is going to Houston, instead of someone I don't like," Tarkanian said.
St. John's, seeded first in the West regional, has been a favorite all along to get to the regional semifinals in Houston. But not anymore, because the Redmen suddenly have depth problems.
The Redmen lost 6-11 reserve center Marco Baldi of Italy Friday morning when the NCAA suspended him for 16 games for improperly accepting a plane ticket to Milan from his club team. Baldi averaged close to 10 minutes a game, providing valuable breathing room for a team that carries a roster of nine.
Now the Redmen are down to eight, and even those aren't entirely healthy. The most worrisome ailment is Walter Berry's -- the 6-8 forward fell and wrenched his ankle midway through the first half in an 83-74 victory over Montana State Friday.
Berry went on to score 31 points, but he obviously was pained toward the end of the game. In addition, forward Shelton Jones is suffering from tendinitis in his knee.
"I walked in and they were all on ice," Coach Lou Carnesecca said.
While both players should start, Carnesecca said he was not sure Berry would be at full strength. "If we were worried about numbers," Carnesecca said, "we'd have brought a regiment."
When asked how he would tell his players to play, considering their plight, Carnesecca said simply, "To win."
That would seem to give an edge to Auburn, a powerful, leaping team seemingly made up of five tight ends, starting with forward Chuck Person. Five players were in double figures for the Tigers in their first-round victory over Arizona, 73-63, Person scoring 20.
St. John's forward Willie Glass will have the responsibility for Person, who averages 21.2 points and 7.7 rebounds and is being scrutinized by NBA scouts as closely as Berry and Bias.
"He's a first-rounder," Carnesecca said of Person. "He's a power player who can post up and he's also an excellent outside shooter."
As for how the Tigers will handle Berry, Coach Sonny Smith didn't have much hope. "We've been beaten by people you never heard of," he said. "So I imagine Walter can handle that task, too."