USC To Face Indiana State In First Game of Rainbow Classic
Dec. 20, 2004
LOS ANGELES -- The USC men's basketball team--now 4-3 and under the direction of interim head coach Jim Saia--heads to Oahu, Hawaii, to take part in the 41st Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic hosted by the University of Hawaii at the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu. The Trojans will try to keep their modest 2-game win streak going behind the hot shooting of sophomore guard Lodrick Stewart (20.5 ppg in last four games), the inside presence of senior forward Gregg Guenther (13.6 pts, 10.3 rbs per game in last four games) and the smooth all-around play of freshman point guard Gabe Pruitt (12 pts, 6 assists per game in last four games). Troy also expects to welcome back the services of senior forward Jeff 'Tank' McMillan, who sat out the last three weeks with a broken hand.
THE RAINBOW CLASSIC -- Besides USC, Georgetown, Oral Roberts, Long Beach State, Hawaii, UAB, Clemson and Indiana State are competing at the tournament. The Trojans open with Indiana State on Tuesday, Dec. 21, at 7:30 p.m. HST (10:30 p.m. PST). Should Troy win, they would take on the winner of Clemson-UAB on Wednesday (Dec. 22) at 5 p.m. If the Trojans lose, they'll play the loser of Clemson-UAB on Wed. at 1:30 p.m. USC will also play a game on Thursday, opponent to be determined by game outcomes. USC has played in three previous Classics, winning the tourney in 1975 behind Marv Safford, who made the all-tournament team.
COACHING CIRCUS -- The tournament comes on the heels of a whirlwind two weeks at USC that saw the dismissal of 9th-year coach Henry Bibby, the immediate installation of Saia as interim coach and the subsequent hiring of former Utah head man Rick Majerus to the top spot. Following USC's 81-74 win over Western Michigan on Saturday (Dec. 18), Majerus then resigned as USC head coach, citing health reasons. Meanwhile, USC's season goes on.
UP NEXT FOR THE TROJANS -- USC returns home to play Southern on Dec. 28 at the Sports Arena before opening Pac-10 play at Oregon on Dec. 31 and at Oregon State on Jan. 2.
LAST GAME -- Senior forward Gregg Guenther scored a career-high 20 points as USC won its second in a row with an 81-74 win over Western Michigan at the Sports Arena on Dec. 18. The Trojans got off to a great start and led 43-28 at the break--its biggest half time lead of the year. Sophomore guard Lodrick Stewart continued his hot play of late, scoring a game-high 21 points (the third time in the last four games he had topped the 20-point barrier). It was USC interim coach Jim Saia's first win at the Sports Arena.
STU! -- In the first three games of the season (two of them Trojan losses), sophomore guard Lodrick Stewart averaged 6.3 points, 1.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.6 steals per game and was shooting just 35% from the field. In the last four games (three of them Trojan wins), the left-handed Stewart is averaging 20.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.0 steals, while shooting 50% from the field. In the last two games alone, he is 19-of-33 from the field (.575%) and is 9-of-20 (.450%) from 3-point territory.
PRU! -- Freshman point guard Gabe Pruitt is quickly establishing himself as one of the best young point guards in the country. The Los Angeles native didn't waste much time in game one--a check of the records indicates that when Pruitt co-led the Trojans in scoring against UC Irvine with 13 points, it was the first time since the advent of freshmen eligibility that a freshman had led the Trojans in scoring in a season opener. But Pruitt wasn't just a one-game wonder. He is currently leading the team in assists (4.4 avg.) and steals (2.3 avg.), and is second in FG% (an outstanding .556 clip), scoring (11.4 avg.), 3-pt FG% (.438) and minutes per game (29.4). Since Pruitt became the starter at point, the Trojans are 3-1and he is averaging 12.0 points and 6.0 assists while shooting .529 from the field and .428 from 3-point range. He has scored in double figures in three of those four games. In the last two games, he is averaging 7.5 assists and just 2.5 turnovers.
GU! -- Senior forward Gregg Guenther has also been on a tear of late. In the last three games--all of them coming off the bench--the former USC football tight end is averaging 13.6 points and 10.3 rebounds. Included in that stretch was a career-high in points against Western Michigan (20) and a career-high in rebounds against San Diego (16).
STU AND PRU ON FIRE -- Lodrick Stewart and Gabe Pruitt have started in the back court in each of the last three games. As backcourt starting mates, they are averaging a combined 30.6 points and 9.3 assists and are shooting an even 50% from the field (.425 on 3-pointers).
THE TANK RETURNS -- Senior forward Jeff 'Tank' McMillan has been out of the lineup since the first possession of game three against La Salle, when he broke his left hand. He will be back in the Rainbow Classic. He was the Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year last season when he averaged 11.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. He was averaging 8.7 points and 6.3 rebounds in just 24 minutes per game this season before getting hurt.
STEAL THIS NOTE -- USC led the Pac-10 in steals last year with an average of 8.89 steals per game. They are leading it again this year with an average of 10.9 per game. That's on pace to shatter the school record, and would be one of the top steals averages in Pac-10 history (the record is 12.04 per game by ASU in 1992-93).
3-POINT ATTACK -- Coming into this week, the Trojans led the Pac-10 with an average of 8.7 three-point baskets per game. That's above the school record of 8.63 3-pointers per game set in 1993.
SENIORITIS -- The Trojans are blessed with six seniors--guards Errick and Derrick Craven, and forwards Rory O'Neil, Jeff McMillan, Nick Curtis and Greg Guenther--the most of any team in the Pac-10. Between the six of them, they have played 10,370 minutes, scored 3,665 points, snagged 2,039 rebounds and dished out 638 assists in their careers.
BALANCING ACTS -- The Trojans had six players score in double figures in the season opening win at home against UCI. That was the first time that had happened since six Trojans hit double figures against Oregon in 2002 in Pac-10 tournament play. What's more, USC was just a hair away from seven players in double figures, as Rory O'Neil finished with nine points. The Trojans again scored five players in double figures against BYU and against San Diego. So USC is 3-0 this year in games where five players score in double figures.
OUTGOING -- Two Trojans--sophomore guard Rodrick Stewart and freshman forward Emanuel Willis--have left the program. Stewart, twin brother of Lodrick, is transferring to Kansas, while Willis is returning home to Mississippi (his ultimate playing destination is unknown at this point).
DIFFERENT LINEUPS -- The Trojans have trotted out five different starting lineups this season, including new ones in five of the last six games. The only Trojan to start all seven games has been senior center Rory O'Neil. USC is 2-0 when it starts Gabe Pruitt, Lod Stewart, Nick Curtis, Nick Young and Rory O'Neil.
EVEN OUTCOMES -- USC has scored 540 point this season. It has also allowed 540. The Trojans have 259 rebounds. As do their opponents.
SHARP SHOOTING -- USC shot .541 from the field against San Diego, which was its best shooting performance since hitting at a .580 rate against Stanford in 2002. The Trojans followed that performance up by shooting .478 against Western Michigan, which means that in the last two games, USC is shooting .507 from the field.
ASSISTS BONANZA -- Part of the reason for USC's improved field goal percentage is the 1-4 Ralph Miller offense that Jim Saia installed at USC this season. It's an offense that relies on passing and result in a lot of easy baskets and assists when run properly. The last two seasons, USC has averaged just 13.6 assists per game. So far this season, it is averaging 17.1 assists per game. Against Western Michigan, four Trojans had four or more assists, led by Gabe Pruitt's game-high seven. Also, three Trojans equaled or surpassed their career-best in assists against WMU. The 23 assists in that game was the most by a Trojan team since getting 24 against Morris Brown in 2002. If USC keeps up its current 17.1 assists-per-game average, it will end up with 513 assists on the season, just five shy of the school record set in 2000.
SAIA AND THE SYCAMORES -- USC interim head coach Jim Saia is familiar with Indiana State. After all, he was an assistant for the Sycamores back in 1989-90. Among the players he coached was Eddie Bird, brother of Larry.
THE CHAPMAN CONNECTION -- Saia went to Div. II Chapman College from 1985-87 and was teammates with Steve Lavin during that time. Coincidentally, Lavin started out his head coaching career on an interim basis with UCLA, while Saia has begun his as an interim head coach for USC.
USC PICKED TO FINISH SIXTH IN MEDIA POLL -- USC was picked to finish sixth in the Pac-10 media poll on Nov. 4. Arizona was picked first with 19 first-place votes and 253 points. Washington (seven first-place votes and 237 points) was second and Stanford was third (194 points). Oregon was fourth (167), followed by UCLA (156), USC (116), California (87), Oregon State (86), Washington State (73) and Arizona State (64).
PAST GLORY -- Fifty years ago this calendar year, the Trojans went to their last NCAA Final Four. The 1953-54 USC basketball team was coached by Forrest Twogood and was captained by forward Dick Welsh. The Trojans fell to Bradley, 74-72, in their semifinal game. Bradley went on to lose to La Salle (which beat USC earlier this season, coincidentally) in the NCAA title game.