Men's Basketball Returns Home To Take On Southern

Dec. 26, 2004

Los Angeles -

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The USC men's basketball team--now 6-4 overall and under the direction of interim head coach Jim Saia--goes for its fifth win in six games as it hosts 3-5 Southern University at the Sports Arena on Tuesday, Dec. 28. Since Trojan head coach Henry Bibby was dismissed on Dec. 6, the Trojans are 4-2, including a close loss to Hawaii in the title game of the Rainbow Classic tournament last week. Troy is led by the underclass backcourt combination of Lodrick Stewart (13.8 ppg) and Gabe Pruitt (11.3 ppg) and the upperclass front court duo of Gregg Guenther (9.5 pts, 7.5 reb) and Rory O'Neil (10.6 ppg, .458 from 3-point range). This is USC's last non-conference game before embarking upon the Pac-10 schedule.

SCOUTING SOUTHERN -- The Jaguars, 3-5 under second-year coach Michael Grant, are led by junior point guard Chris Alexander (14.6 ppg), senior power forward Peter Cipriano (14.5 ppg, 11 rpg), and senior shooting guard Jerimie Collier (8.9 ppg). Southern started the season 2-0, but has dropped five of its last six, including a 75-62 loss to Baylor on Dec. 18. Alexander scored 36 points against Baylor as the Jaguars were even with the Bears at halftime.

TWO OUT OF THREE AIN'T BAD -- USC traveled to Hawaii last week to take part in the 41st Rainbow Classic. The Trojans started out with a 68-64 win over Indiana State, then dispatched UAB--a 2004 Sweet 16 team--on a 3-point shot by Rory O'Neil with 5.7 seconds left as the Trojans prevailed, 81-78. That gave USC a 4-game win streak for the first time since early 2002. Troy then had a chance to win its first Rainbow title since 1975, but fell to host team Hawaii in the championship game, 72-68, as the Rainbow Warriors won the tourney for the fourth-straight year. Freshman point guard Gabe Pruitt was named to the all-tournament team.

NEXT UP -- The Trojans travel to Oregon later this week to begin Pac-10 play against the Ducks (Dec. 31) and the Beavers (Jan. 2).

LAST GAME -- Matt Gibson scored 16 points and made four free throws in the final minute as Hawaii held off USC 72-68 Thursday night (Dec. 23) in the championship game of the Rainbow Classic. Bobby Nash scored 14 points and Matthew Gipson added 13 off the bench for the Rainbow Warriors (8-0), who won their fourth straight Rainbow Classic title. USC was led by Gregg Guenther's 19 points and 11 rebounds and Jeff McMillan's 13 points. Lodrick Stewart added 12 and Nick Young had 11 for USC, who fell to 4-2 under interim head coach Jim Saia. Trailing by 11 in the second half, the Trojans rallied with a 12-2 run to cut the deficit to 45-43 with 13:45 remaining on Stewart's basket. The Trojans closed to within one-point on four occasions after that, the last on Derrick Craven's 3-pointer with 1:41 remaining. But Gipson made a layup on the next play to extend the lead out to three and USC would get no closer than three points for the rest of the game. USC was ultimately done in by poor free throw shooting, making just 15-of-29 attempts, including an 0-of-7 performance in the first half.

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 seven games (five of them Trojan wins), the left-handed Stewart is averaging 17.0 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.6 steals, while shooting .488 from the field. In the last five games--four of them USC wins--he is 32-of-61 from the field (.524).

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 (31.6 per game), assists (4.3 avg.), FG% (.482), and steals (2.2 avg.). He is second in scoring (11.3 avg.) and 3-point FGs made (18). Since Pruitt became the starter at point, the Trojans are 5-2 and he is averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 assists per game.

GU! -- Senior forward Gregg Guenther has also been on a tear of late. In the last five games--all of them coming off the bench--the former USC football tight end is averaging 14.2 points and 10.2 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 three double-doubles, all coming in the last five games.

THE TANK RETURNS -- Senior forward Jeff 'Tank' McMillan came back in the Rainbow Classic after being out of the lineup since the first possession of game three against La Salle, when he broke his left hand. He responded with 9 points and 5 rebounds against Indiana State in 21 minutes and then came back with 5 points and 5 rebounds in 18 minutes against UAB. He then scored 13 points and grabbed 6 rebounds in 22 minutes against Hawaii. 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 9.6 per game. That's on pace to challenge 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).

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 10,675 minutes, scored 3,778 points, snagged 2,110 rebounds and dished out 660 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.

TOUGH OPPONENTS -- USC's 10 opponents have a combined record of 58-36 this season (.617).

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).THE LINEUP -- The Trojans have trotted out five different starting lineups this season. The only Trojan to start all seven games has been senior center Rory O'Neil. However, USC is 4-1 when it has started Gabe Pruitt, Lod Stewart, Nick Curtis, Nick Young and Rory O'Neil.

ASSISTS BONANZA -- USC has been passing the ball well lately, thanks to 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 16.5 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. At its current pace, USC can challenge the school record for assists in a season (518 in 2000).

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.

GREAT START FOR A ROOKIE -- Jim Saia is off to a 4-2 start as USC head coach, which is the best start for a rookie Trojan coach since Stan Morrison also opened at 4-2 in 1980. Should the Trojans win vs. Southern, his 5-2 start will match Morrison's 5-2 start in 1980.

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