USC Hoops In Rainbow Classic Championship Game Against Hawaii
Dec. 23, 2004
Honolulu, Hawaii -
The USC men's basketball team--now 6-3 overall and 4-1 under the direction of interim head coach Jim Saia--goes for its fifth win in a row win as it takes on 7-0 Hawaii in the championship game of the 41st Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic at the Stan Sheriff Center. Since Trojan head coach Henry Bibby was dismissed on Dec. 6, the Trojans have rattled off four wins in five games, the only blemish a 3-point decision against Fresno State. Troy is led by the underclass backcourt combination of Lodrick Stewart (14.0 ppg) and Gabe Pruitt (12.3 ppg) and the upperclass front court duo of Gregg Guenther (8.4 pts, 7.1 reb) and Rory O'Neil (11.1 ppg, .478 from 3-point range). USC's current win streak is its longest since the Trojans captured nine in a row in the middle of the 2001-2002 season.
THE RAINBOW CLASSIC -- Besides USC, Georgetown, Oral Roberts, Long Beach State, Hawaii, UAB, Clemson and Indiana State are competing at the tournament. The Trojans opened with a 68-64 win over Indiana State on Tuesday (Dec. 21), then won an 81-78 nailbiter over UAB on Wednesday (Dec. 22). Should USC win today, it will claim its second Rainbow Classic championship (the first came in 1975). The Trojans also competed in the Rainbow in 1988 and 1995 and have a 7-4 overall record in the tournament.
SCOUTING HAWAII -- The Rainbow Warriors, under coach Riley Wallace, are off to their best start in 32 years thanks to the hard-nosed play of forwards Julian Sensley (13.4 ppg) and Jeff Blackett (10.9 ppg). Hawaii is holding teams to .409 shooting from the field and just 59.3 points per game. The Rainbow Warriors got to the championship game by beating Long Beach State, 54-45, and then defeating Oral Roberts, 55-54, on a last-second three-pointer.
BACK FROM PARADISE -- 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 center Rory O'Neil hit a 3-pointer with 5.7 seconds left to give USC an 81-78 win over UAB in the second round of the Rainbow Classic on Dec. 22 (Wed.). The win--the Trojans' fourth in a row--propelled USC into Thursday's championship matchup. Troy had a 68-55 advantage with just over nine minutes to go, then held on as UAB--a Sweet 16 team in 2004--mounted a furious comeback to tie the game at 73 apiece with 3:36 to play. UAB moved out to a 77-75 lead with 44 seconds left, then freshman point guard Gabe Pruitt, who scored a team-high 15 points, hit an NBA 3-pointer just before the shot clock expired to move the Trojans into the lead, 78-77. A Donell Taylor free throw tied the game, setting up O'Neil's heroics. Sophomore Lodrick Stewart scored 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting and freshman Nick Young and O'Neil each had 13 points (Young's career high) for the Trojans. Taylor led UAB with a game-high 19 points.
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 six games (five of them Trojan wins), the left-handed Stewart is averaging 17.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.7 steals, while shooting .493 from the field. In the last four games--all USC wins--he is 28-of-52 from the field (.538) and 13-of-30 (.433) 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 minutes played (30.9 per game), assists (4.2 avg.), FT% (.813), FG% (.533), and steals (2.1 avg.). He is second in scoring (12.3 avg.) and 3-point FGs made (18). Since Pruitt became the starter at point, the Trojans are 5-1 and he is averaging 13.2 points and 5.2 assists while shooting .509 from the field and .433 from 3-point range. He has scored in double figures in five of those six games.
GU! -- Senior forward Gregg Guenther has also been on a tear of late. In the last four games--all of them coming off the bench--the former USC football tight end is averaging 12.4 points and 9.4 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). So far this season, he has two double-doubles, both coming in the last four games.
STU AND PRU ON FIRE -- Lodrick Stewart and Gabe Pruitt have started together in the back court in each of the last five games. As backcourt starting mates, they are averaging a combined 29.6 points and 7.8 assists and are shooting .495 from the field.
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.
GREAT START FOR A ROOKIE -- Jim Saia is off to a 4-1 start as USC head coach, which is the best start for a rookie Trojan coach since Stan Morrison opened at 4-1 in 1980. Should Saia's Trojans beat Hawaii tonight, his 5-1 start will be the best by a new Trojan head coach since Forrest Twogood started 6-0 in 1951.