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It's now or never

Trojans poised for shot at elusive conference title

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Updated: Saturday November 03, 2001 1:39 PM
  Sam Clancy Sam Clancy helped the Trojans to the Elite Eight last year. AP

By Steve Rivera, Special to CNNSI.com

USC coach Henry Bibby, ever surly, doesn't believe in windows of opportunity. Every year brings the chance at a championship -- no matter the situation.

But history will show the Trojans have never been in a better spot than this season to win their first conference title in 17 seasons.

Expectations are high after USC made a deep run into the NCAA tournament last season, making it to the Elite Eight for the first time eventually falling to NCAA champion Duke. It was also made the final rankings for the first time since 1992.

"My expectations every year are to try and win the championship," said Bibby, now in his seventh year at USC. "I'm not concerned about what your [media] expectations are because they don't mean anything to me."

Maybe not, but the high hopes are there from a variety of areas with the return of three starters (guard Brandon Granville, forward David Bluthenthal and forward Sam Clancy) and a trio of other players with plenty of experience and punch.

"I feel they can win this league," said Stanford's Casey Jacobsen, a key player in Stanford's chances to repeat as champion. "They have experience and multiple all-league players."

Throw in high school standouts the Craven brothers -- Derrick and Errick -- returnees Desmon Farmer and Robert Hutchison. It also helps that the suspension of 6-11 junior center Kostas Charissis, who was hit over the summer after playing for a pair of Greece summer pro teams before enrolling at USC, has been reduced from 15 games to three.

"Right now," said Clancy, perhaps one of the top five players in the league, "we have a lot of confidence as a team, especially the guys returning from last season. Last year, we were able to see that we could play with the big guys -- like the Kentuckys."

Much of USC's success will depend on its big three: Granville, Bluthenthal and Clancy. Granville returns as the league's best assist man at 6.09 a game; Bluthenthal, a menace on the boards and someone who possesses a sharp-shooting jumper, returns as the league's fifth best scorer at 13.5 a game; and Clancy returns as the league's second best scorer (17.3) and third best rebounder (7.8).

"Now we know what to expect," Clancy said. "And Coach Bibby has been tough on us. If we don't have as good a practice as he'd like he's on us. He knows we can do better. He knows what to expect from us."

He also knows what to expect from Clancy. Every team in the conference does. He's a gritty, gutty forward who can play near the basket or make tough for a defender playing on the perimeter.

"Let me tell you, Clancy can play," said Stanford's Jacobsen. "Just in the last few days, Coach [Mike] Montgomery has cited Sam Clancy's name saying we need to block out or Sam Clancy will throw you in the 18th row. If you don't block out he'll dunk it in your face. He's a guy we need to prepare for."

As is the entire USC team.

Steve Rivera covers the Pac-10 for the Tucson Citizen. His "This Week in the Pac-10" column will appear weekly during the season.

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