USC has ridden a stronger, deeper lineup to the top of the Pac-10 standings
Southern cal coach Henry Bibby is a dyspeptic, superstitious man who finds comfort in having a routine. For instance, when Bibby was a star guard at UCLA in 1969 and the early '70s, he always put on his left sneaker first before games.
As the Trojans prepared for their showdown with the Bruins for the Pac-10 lead last Thursday, they dined on their usual pregame meal of chicken teriyaki, rice and broccoli—a combination their coach has determined to be a winner—but one thing was different: Bibby was relaxed. Senior point guard Brandon Granville cracked up the room when he called out, "Hey Coach, when the lights come up tonight, don't let your a——— get too tight."
The Trojans defeated the Bruins 81-77 later that night for only the second time in Bibby's six years as coach, in a game that wasn't as close as the final score indicated. Southern Cal had a 46-33 rebounding advantage, including a 24-11 edge on the offensive glass, and, despite shooting only 37.3% from the floor to UCLA's 46.6%, led for about 30 of the game's 40 minutes. More important, in taking over sole possession of first place in the Pac-10 with a 5-0 record (13-2 overall), the No. 18 Trojans gave Bibby one more reason to leave well enough alone. "He's been surprisingly mellow this year," Granville says. "You can joke with him more, and he gives us a lot more freedom." Explains Bibby, "As long as they play well, I'm mellow."
Anchored by three seniors, Granville and 6'7" forwards David Bluthenthal and Sam Clancy, the Trojans have a combination of talent and experience mat is rare in today's game. They also have depth, something that Bibby's teams have previously lacked. Their 10-man rotation includes nine players who have started at least three games. Not only does the longer bench give Southern Cal the luxury of pushing the tempo, but it also permits Bibby to reduce his regulars' minutes if he believes they aren't playing hard. On Dec. 4, for example, a not-so-mellow Bibby yanked his three star seniors from the starting lineup before the Trojans' game against Rhode Island for not hustling in practice.
Another major reason for USC's quick start is the play of 6'2" freshman shooting guard Errick Craven, who scored 13 points against the Bruins and has been tough in the clutch all season. Craven is third among the Trojans in scoring (12.3 points a game) and is as much a creature of habit as Bibby. Among other things, Craven wears the same white undershirt to every game and dons black ankle braces for away games and white braces for home games. "It's just something I do to put me in a confident mind-set," he says.
Nothing, however, produces confidence like winning. Whatever the Trojans are doing, now isn't the time for change.
UC Irvine's Jerry Green
Capitalizing on a Second Chance
In some respects, what UC Irvine guard Jerry Green did on the night of the NBA draft last June was no different from what millions of basketball fans across the country did: He watched it on television with family and friends at home in Pomona, Calif. However, he was no ordinary observer that night. Eight weeks earlier Green, who had been named Big West Player of the Year after averaging 19.0 points a game as a junior, had declared himself eligible for the draft. He competed at the NBA's predraft showcase in Chicago and was flown across the country by the Knicks for a private workout. But when the big night came, Green went unselected. "It was disappointing, but I got over it pretty quick," he says. "It was good to check out where I stood."
Since he hadn't signed with an agent, Green could regain his final season of eligibility under NCAA rules, provided that he repaid a total of $2,500 in travel expenses to the sponsors of the Chicago camp and to the Knicks. After learning what he needed to improve—namely, his strength and playmaking skills-Green took out a loan to pay back the money.