The USC basketball team fielded a new player tonight against Rhode Island. His name was Tenacious Dee. For those of you who have yet to see him play, you should come witness how he shuts down opponents. All joking aside, USC is quickly becoming one of the better defensive basketball teams in the nation. That is not an over exaggeration. The only shot Rhode Island could hope to get off for most the night was from downtown. And rarely were any of their three point efforts taken without a Trojan in their face. Bibby is creating a basketball team worthy of praise that will, once again, find itself a featured player in March Madness.
In front of nearly five thousand people, the USC Trojans jumped out to a sixteen point lead before six minutes of the first half had expired. That may not sound impressive, but consider that they accomplished this without one regular starter seeing any time on the court. That's right, beyond Hutchinson, the starting five was composed entirely of freshmen. Imagine how the Rhode Island team must have felt when they saw, Clancy, Bluthenthal, Granville and Dupree coming off the bench. By that time SC was up seventeen and a full ten minutes had expired. Ironically, for the first few minutes that the normal starting lineup was in, they struggled. Before the half had ended, SC's lead had shrunk to six and things were looking a bit rough around the edges. But then Bluthenthal got a hot hand by hitting two threes and with a spectacular dunk alley-oop by Clancy, SC was back up thirteen as the half ended. Bibby is building a team that has the legs to go the distance. He brought the entire bench into tonight's contest and got decent games from just about each of them. The star of the first half had to be Eric Craven. This kid could be the best ball handler and shooter SC's had since Harold Miner. He hit six threes and was automatic from just about anywhere on the court. He also played with hustle, was aggressive to the basket and found more than a few boards for his effort. All in all, a marvelous game from a true freshmen.
So half-time rolls around and one might think that it would be a long fifteen minute wait for play to resume. Then, out on to the floor with two show girls on each arm, saunters Pete Carrol. Representatives of the Vegas Bowl were in town to deliver the formal bowl invitation to the Trojans "Strip" style. Watching Pete Carrol, with the gals and a few players, made me think of Paul Hackett. I thought... Paul could've never rolled with this. Carroll may not qualify for the Rat Pack, but he's got his own sense of style and it translates well to the fans and players who follow him. SC's in good hands with both Bibby and Carroll. It would be nice to see Henry lighten up a bit, but he's got a big task ahead of him and takes that task very seriously. Oh, by the way, Carroll eluded to how well recruiting was going. He of course was referring to the two beautiful women by his side, but I have no doubt the SC football team will land the players they need for 2002.
The second half begins and it's full speed ahead. Craven continued to hit the three, as did Farmer. The two ended up being high scorers for the night. SC had five players in double digits and were solid all night long on the defensive side of the ball. If any complaint can be logged against the Trojans, it would be their rebounding. For as well as SC played, they struggled underneath, constantly out of position, constantly missing the opportunity for a second shot while giving Rhode Island a new thirty-five too many times. That's not to say that Bluthenthal and O'Neal didn't have some moments of brilliance inside the key, but against a better team, SC would have been in trouble.
Dupree and Curtis both gave solid performances, giving the Trojans some needed depth from the bench. Clancy and Granville were solid, yet unspectacular. Clancy did extend out for an alley-oop that defied physics. He is an amazing athlete and truly dominates the court when he's on. Brandon is at a point in his game where he is the consummate team leader. Last year it seemed that as Brandon went, so did the Trojans. This year, with Craven and even Hutchinson playing well, SC can take that weight off of Granville's shoulders so that his game can flourish.
This is the best basketball team SC has put on the court in over a decade. As great as Trep and Big Red were, they are not as missed as they might have been on squads from years passed. The Pac Ten is going to be tough this year with UA, Stanford and Ucla being as good as any team in the nation. But the Trojans will find themselves right in the thick of that competition and eventually making a solid run in the NCAA's.
The Sports Arena is horrible, but the Trojans are not, so come out and enjoy the show. It's worth every penny.