When the Salt Lake Community College men's basketball team made its first-ever NJCAA tournament in 1994, the Bruins were pretty much just happy as Dorothy to be back in Kansas.

You might have even thought Silas Mills et al won the national title by how they celebrated after claiming fifth place.

Not this time.

After knocking off third-ranked Southern Idaho to earn their spot in the 16-team tourney, the No. 4-ranked Bruins are in Hutchinson, Kan., with a bigger goal. They want to — and believe they can — return from the Midwest with some national championship hardware.

SLCC begins its quest for the NJCAA trophy today at 9 a.m. MDT against 28-4 Vincennes (Ind.) University.

"We're going (there) to win the national championship. We'll be there for a week; we might as well win it," said SLCC shooting guard Brian Green. "We believe in ourselves. We're going with the mindset, 'Just believe in ourselves and we can win and just play hard every game.'"

Point guard DaVell Jackson, the Scenic West Athletic Conference player of the year, doesn't want to settle for anything less than winning four games back in "Hutch." Teams that lose fall into the consolation bracket.

"We made it this far," Jackson said. "We might as well take the whole thing."

SLCC coach Norm Parrish believes two types of teams generally qualify for the national tournament.

"There's the type that's happy to be there and the type that's there to really try to win it," he said. "So we need to not be just happy to be there if we really want to go for it."

Considering it seemed hard to distinguish if their practices this past week were for football or basketball, these hard-working Bruins opted for the latter. It's that type of intensity — in practices and games — that boosted SLCC to become the nation's stingiest defense and to a 29-3 record.

Parrish believes his players will need to continue to outwork opponents because the Bruins don't stack up athletically with most top-tier teams. They can out-tough teams, but they won't out-talent many.

"Hopefully our guys will compete because we have a chance," Parrish said. "We're good enough to win it and we're bad enough to get beat twice. We can't just show up."

Green is just stoked the tournament is about to begin. He looks forward to playing a "very good" Vincennes squad, and hopefully more.

"I can't wait to be out there. ... I'm really excited," he said. "It's not very often you get to play for a national championship."

GAME 1 NOTES: SLCC starting power forward Andy Palmer didn't practice last week because of injured knee ligaments, but coaches say he should play this week. ... Vincennes, the only junior college basketball program in Indiana, beat Globe Technical Institute (N.Y.), 98-67, to win the District 3 championship. ... The Trailblazers only have nine players on their roster, but six average 9.9 points or higher, topped by Devon Dumes' 16.7 ppg. ... SLCC's leading scorer, DaVell Jackson, also averages 16.7 ppg, but Brian Green is the only other Bruin in double figures at 12.9 ppg. ... SLCC, which has three wins in a row after back-to-back losses to CSI and CEU, averages 81.5 points and holds opponents to a NJCAA-best 57.9 ppg. ... Vincennes, winner of six straight and 16 of 17, averages 85.5 points while giving up 65.1 ppg. ... Tuesday's winner plays either Paris Junior College or Southeastern Illinois College on Wednesday night. ... The loser plays Wednesday morning and can only finish as high as seventh.

NJCAA tournament

March 18-22

At the Hutchinson (Kan.) Sports Arena

Tuesday's first round

Vincennes U. (28-4) vs. Salt Lake CC (29-3)

NJCAA Div. I Men's National Basketball Championship

March 18-22

Hutchinson, Kan.

First-round bracket

Tuesday's games

Vincennes U. (28-4) vs. Salt Lake CC (29-3), 9 a.m.

Paris JC (29-5) vs. SE Illinois Coll. (27-6), 11 a.m.

Three Rivers CC (27-6) vs. E. Wyo. Coll. (23-11), 1 p.m.

E. Ariz. Coll. (27-5) vs. Walters St. (31-1), 3:30 p.m.

Shelton St. CC (24-10) vs. NE Okla. A&M (26-7), 5:30 p.m.

Seward Co. CC (29-5) vs. Chipola Coll. (32-1), 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday's games

S. Plains Coll. (26-5) vs. Ga. Perimeter (23-10), 10 a.m.

Indian Hills CC (26-8) vs Itawamba CC (29-2), noon

FISTS OF FURY: SLCC volleyball coach Shay Goulding, who's headed to coach the BYU women, got the Bruin basketball team pumped up for the tournament with a confidence-building exercise before Saturday's practice. The players and coaches had to write fears and hopes on each side of a 5/8-inch thick piece of wood. Somebody then firmly held the 9-inch-by-12-inch boards — with the fears facing out — and they punched through the wood.

"It was loud and crazy," SLCC assistant coach Russell Beck said.

Green wrote "regret" on his fear side.

"If I don't play my hardest, I'll regret it," said Green, who called it a "sick" emotional experience. "I want to go out, win or lose, and play my hardest."

E-mail: jody@desnews.com