Right now, the best college basketball being played in Los Angeles, isn't coming out of Westwood. The USC Trojans, coached by Henry Bibby, through the first four games of conference play have dominated the same opponents the Bruins have had to pull away from in the final minutes to gain a win. Granted, the games were against the dregs of the PAC 10, but in four games SC has won by a combined 78 points, while Ucla managed only 35.
The Bruins are famous for playing to the level of their competition, which has hurt and helped them. They play a succession of poor teams poorly, then get a visit from a ranked opponent, who doesn't think Ucla has an "A" game, and the Bruins squeak out a two point victory. This had worked for Lavin, up until last year's NCAA tournament, where the Bruins scratched their way to the round of sixteen. That is when they met number 1 ranked Duke, who took the lead early and never looked back. Ucla got whacked and through that loss realized that if you don't play hard all the time, regardless of the opponent, you won't be prepared for a matchup against a good team. SC also lost to Duke, which went on to claim the national title, but it was a game that went to the wire with the Trojans simply not having a deep enough bench to keep up.
"The three guys you expect to have a huge impact for USC - Granville, Clancy and Bluthenthal - were very good, but they also had some other guys step up," Washington Coach Bob Bender said. "That's the thing with USC. If you try to stop those guys, the others step up. They are a very deep team." This quote from Washington Coach, Bob Bender is one of the most exciting things that has been said about USC Basketball in quite a while because people are finally using the word "deep" to describe the Trojans.
The Trojans are now deep, thanks to the play of true Freshmen Errick Craven, his brother Derrick and Rory O'Neil, Sophomore Desmon Farmer, transfer Jerry Dupree, reserve point guard Hutchinson, walk on center Greg Guenther and returnees Granville, Bluthenthal, Clancy and Charissis. SC is playing like a team, sharing the ball and the victories. The Bruins, on the other hand, are still looking for a leader. Billy Knight has tried to lead by example, but Gadzurik and Kapono are not consistently lending a hand. Cedric Bozeman has shown tremendous promise as a true freshmen, but his injuries have slowed him down to a pace that is far away from his best basketball. Errick Craven, for the Trojans, however, is being touted as perhaps the best college freshmen in the game. His ability with the ball and around the basket have been integral to USC's success. Now with the full return of his twin brother, Derrick, the Trojans should see increased speed and ball handling ability when either Farmer or Granville are not on the court.
As for Brandon and Desmon, both have played inspired basketball this season. Desmon was benched early in the year for Craven and now finds himself coming off the bench to add life to the team. He has answered this call with superb games through the beginning of PAC Ten play. And Granville, now a seasoned senior, has been outstanding from three point range, as well as leading the team with steals. Clancy, as usual, has drawn the double teams this year, but still managed to post 6 double doubles through the first 12 games. He is the best forward in the PAC Ten and with Bluthenthal firing on all cylinders, they are a tough pair to contend with. The only aspect USC is in need of is a truly dominant center. Charissis has not had a solid game yet and this forces Clancy underneath, more than desired.
With the talent SC is putting on the court and their unselfish brand of team play, it is tough to find a more complete team on the West Coast. That said, Fresno State and Pepperdine both downed the Trojans, but in those game SC played less than inspired ball. They also hadn't fully developed their rotation, as Bibby worked nearly every player off the bench searching for that perfect combination. It is these two losses that have kept the Trojans out of the top 25. The nation's sportwriters and coaches liked what they saw in the 2001 season, but are waiting for SC to down a ranked opponent before they will give the Men of Troy true respect.
In every game last season, where SC suffered a loss, it happened because the bench wasn't deep enough to spell the starters. It was always in that last eight minutes of the game that the opponent would pull away, winning by six or seven points. But for the 2002 season, the Trojans have enough horses to truly compete at an elite level. The run to the round of eight was a spectacular moment in USC basketball, but with the talent on the court and Henry Bibby's deliberate coaching, not only making the tournament, but advancing may no longer be an oddity.
In the late 1960's and early ‘70's USC and Ucla had at times, arguably the two best basketball teams in the nation. Unfortunately, for the Trojans, at that time, only the winner of the division was invited to compete for the National Championship. Since then, and up until the 2001 season, college basketball in Los Angeles has belonged to Ucla. But as the saying goes, "that was then, this is now."
USC owns this town in football and baseball. A victory over the Bruins puts USC in first place in the PAC Ten and very much in control for the rest of the season. The Trojans are a more talented team then the Bruins and there is no reason they should not post a win on Thursday night. If the fans show up and the team plays their game, Los Angeles will belong to USC on every court and field sports can be played on.
SC by 6.