Men's Hoops Opens Pac-10 Play At Oregon

Dec. 29, 2004

Los Angeles -

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The USC men's basketball team--now 7-4 overall and 5-2 under the direction of interim head coach Jim Saia--goes for its sixth win in seven games as it opens Pac-10 Conference play at Oregon at 4 p.m. on Friday (Dec. 31) and at Oregon State at 2 p.m. on Sunday (Jan. 2). Since Trojan head coach Henry Bibby was dismissed on Dec. 6, the Trojans are 5-2, including a win earlier this week at home over Southern University. Troy is led by the underclass backcourt combination of Lodrick Stewart (14.4 ppg) and Gabe Pruitt (11.3 ppg) and the upperclass front court duo of Gregg Guenther (9.0 pts, 7.5 reb) and Rory O'Neil (10.5 ppg, .481 from 3-point range). This is the second year in a row that USC is opening conference play up at Oregon.

SCOUTING OREGON -- The Ducks are 8-1 this season, including a 5-0 mark at home. Oregon is young, but talented, as the top three scorers are sophomore guard Aaron Brooks (15.3) , freshman guard Malik Hairston (14.3) and freshman guard Bryce Taylor (11.9). The Ducks are shooting an impressive .512 from the field, second-best in the Pac-10.

SCOUTING OREGON STATE -- The Beavers are 8-3 heading into this weekend, with UCLA on tap for Friday. OSU, coached by Jay John, is six points away from being 9-1 on the season, as they have two two-point losses. Big freshman Sasa Cuick leads OSU in scoring and rebounding (14.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg).

PAC-10 OPENERS -- The Trojans are 6-4 overall in their last 10 Pac-10 openers and 5-5 in their last 10 conference road openers.

GOOD NON-CONFERENCE START -- USC's 7-4 mark is its best pre-conference start since the 2001-02 NCAA tournament squad went 8-2 before beginning Pac-10 play.

PAC-10 OPENERS -- Senior guard Errick Craven is out the next couple weeks with a high right ankle sprain.

NEXT UP -- The Trojans return home next week to host No. 16 Washington and Washington State on Jan. 6 and Jan. 8, respectively.

LAST GAME -- Sophomore guard Lodrick Stewart scored a game-high 20 points to lead six Trojans in double figures as USC crushed Southern, 91-58, on Dec. 28 (Tuesday). It was Troy's fifth win in the last six games. The Trojans shot 53.7% from the field and forced 21 Jaguar turnovers. USC led by as many as 37 points in the second half before emptying the bench.

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 eight games (six of them Trojan wins), the left-handed Stewart is averaging 17.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.6 steals, while shooting .500 from the field, while scoring 20 points or more four times. In the last six games--five of them USC wins--he is shooting a stellar 39-of-73 from the field (.534) and is 20-of-46 from 3-point range (.434).

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--who has a style reminiscent of NBA star Jalen Rose--wasn't just a one-game wonder. He currently leads the Pac-10 in steals (2.3 per game) and is sixth in assists (4.3 avg.). Known for his calm demeanor and clutch shooting, he is second on the Trojans in scoring (11.3 avg.), field goal percentage (.484--tied with Jacque Hill for best FG% ever by a freshman Trojan guard) and minutes (30.7). Since Pruitt became the starter at point, the Trojans are 6-2 and he is averaging 11.5 points and 5.0 assists per game. He has shot .500 or better from the field in seven of USC's 11 games.

G IS MONEY -- Senior forward Gregg Guenther has also been on a tear of late. In the last six games--all but one of them coming off the bench--the former USC football tight end is averaging 12.5 points and 9.6 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 six games.

THE TANK BEGINS TO ROLL -- Senior forward Jeff 'Tank' McMillan came back in the Rainbow Classic last week after being out of the lineup since the first possession of game three against La Salle, when he broke his left hand. Since his return, the 2004 Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year is averaging 9.5 points and 5.3 rebounds in just over 19 minutes per game.

CURRENT TROJANS LIFETIME AGAINST OREGON --

Player	Games	        Pts.	Rebs.	Ast.	Pts. HighDerrick Craven	5	3.2	2.4	2.4	8Nick Curtis	4	4.3	3.0	0.5	8Gregg Guenther	5	7.0	4.2	0.6	16Jeff McMillan	2	13.5	12.0	1.5	14Rory O'Neil	8	8.6	6.5	1.4	17Lodrick Stewart	2	9.0	1.5	0.0	10

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 9.7 per game. That average puts USC on pace to break the school record of 287 steals set in 2001-2002.

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 10,774 minutes, scored 3,817 points, snagged 2,130 rebounds and dished out 667 assists in their careers.

DIAPER DANDIES -- USC's recruiting class was ranked as high as seventh by one expert. The two jewels of the class--and the prime building blocks of USC teams to come--are Gabe Pruitt and Nick Young. While Pruitt's exploits were noted earlier, it is Young who has come on the most of late. An explosive 6-6 swingman who can jump out of the gym, Young is averaging 12.3 points and 5.0 rebounds while shooting .500 from the field the last three games. He has scored a career-high 13 points in two of those three games. On the year, he has started eight games (including the last five) and is averaging 8.1 points and 4.1 rebounds. Another USC freshman--forward Emanuel Willis--has transferred out of the program, while JC newcomer Dwayne Shackleford is averaging 4.0 points per game.

BALANCING ACTS -- The Trojans had six players score in double figures in the season opening win at home against UCI and did it again against Southern this past week. The last time that had happened was against Oregon in 2002 in Pac-10 tournament play. USC is 4-0 this year in games where at least 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).

THE LINEUP -- The Trojans have trotted out six different starting lineups this season. The only Trojan to start all 11 games has been senior center Rory O'Neil. However, USC is 3-1 when it has started Gabe Pruitt, Lod Stewart, Nick Curtis, Nick Young and Rory O'Neil together.

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. At its current pace, USC can challenge the school record for assists in a season (518 in 2000).

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.

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