USC Basketball--With Jim Saia As Interim Head Coach--Hosts Fresno State

Dec. 6, 2004

Los Angeles -

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The USC men's basketball team--now 2-2 and under the direction of interim head coach Jim Saia--looks to stay undefeated at home this season as it hosts 4-0 Fresno State at the Sports Arena on Wednesday, Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m. ET. It'll be USC's first game since Henry Bibby was released from his duties as head coach on Dec. 6. The Trojans are deep, with six seniors on the roster--including leading scorer Rory O'Neil--and an incoming recruiting class--led by guard Gabe Pruitt--that is ranked in the top 10 by some recruiting experts.

GAME #5 -- USC vs. Fresno State (4-0) at the Sports Arena on Wednesday (Dec. 8) at 7:30 p.m. (PT). It will be telecast live on Fox Sports Net 2 and broadcast live on KMPC-AM 1540 in Los Angeles, KSPA 1510 in Ontario/Orange County and XEMM 800 in San Diego. Ray Lopes is in his third year as head coach of the Bulldogs. His team is led by sophomore guard Ja'Vance Coleman (17 ppg, 7.8 rpg), freshman forward Chris Berry (13.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg) and freshman guard Donovan Morris (12 ppg, 4.3 rpg). The Bulldogs are dominating on the boards so far this year, outrebounding foes by an average of 53-36. FSU's last game was an 80-65 win over Mississippi Valley State.

NEW COACH Jim Saia -- The Trojan basketball program moved into a new direction on Monday (Dec. 6) as assistant coach Jim Saia was elevated to the position of interim head coach following the dismissal of 9th-year head man Henry Bibby. While Bibby's teams made the NCAA Elite Eight in 2001 and the NCAA tournament two other times, the last two seasons saw his squads go a combined 28-34. Saia, 40, served seven years as the top assistant coach at UCLA (1997-2003) and was involved in five Sweet 16 appearances and an Elite Eight appearance during that time. A veteran of West Coast basketball, he also had coaching stints at Fresno State, Indiana State and California. He will be assisted by Eric Brown, Bob Cantu and Mike Johnson.

LAST GAME -- The Trojans rebounded from an 0-2 road trip with a solid 87-82 win over BYU at home. Sophomore guard Lodrick Stewart scored a career-high 22 points to lead five Trojans in double figures. USC led at the half for the first time all season and later forged a 17-point lead that was enough to withstand a late Cougar rally. Senior center Rory O'Neil added 20 points and 8 rebounds for the Trojans, while freshman guard Gabe Pruitt continued his solid play by chipping in 16 points and 6 assists. Jimmy Balderson led BYU with 22 points.

UP NEXT FOR THE TROJANS -- The Trojans head south to play at the University of San Diego on Dec. 11 (Sat.), then will host Western Michigan at the Sports Arena on Dec. 18 before going to Hawaii to compete in the Rainbow Classic from Dec. 21-23.

COACHES IN FIRST GAMES -- Four of the last five Trojan head coaches--Henry Bibby, Charlie Parker , George Raveling and Bob Boyd--lost their debuts at USC. The lone win came courtesy of Stan Morrison in 1980.

FRESNO STATE AND Jim Saia -- New Trojan coach Jim Saia was an assistant for Fresno State under Gary Colson from 1990-1994. The 1993-94 Bulldogs went 21-11 and advanced to the third round of the NIT, beating USC along the way, 79-76.

McMILLAN OUT -- Senior forward Jeff McMillan--last year's Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year--is out for 4-6 weeks due to a broken left hand, which he injured in the Trojans' first possession against La Salle. Look for senior Gregg Guenther and freshman Emanuel Willis to fill in at the power forward spot.

GABE MAKES HIS MARK -- A check of the records indicates that when Gabe 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 currently leads the team in FG% (.621), 3-point FG% (.467), assists (3.3) and steals (2.3) and is tied for the team lead in FT% (a perfect 5 for 5). He is also second on the squad in scoring at 12.0 points per game. He is coming off his best game yet--a 16 point, 6 assist effort against BYU.

A FAST START, FOR ONCE -- USC had been getting off to some slow starts so far this season. Through three games, the Trojans were falling behind by an average score of 42-27 at halftime. But USC came out against BYU and took a 44-30 lead into the break.

SURGING STEALS -- 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 11.25 per game. That's on pace to set the school record, and would be the second-best steals average in Pac-10 history (the record is 12.04 per game by ASU in 1992-93).

3-POINT ATTACK -- The Trojans lead the Pac-10 with an average of 9.25 three point baskets per game. If USC keeps up that pace, it will break 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 10,055 minutes, scored 3,545 points, snagged 1,975 rebounds and dished out 615 assists in their careers.

GROOVY NEWBIES -- It didn't take long for USC's recruiting class--ranked as high as seventh nationally by one publication--to make an impact in 2004-2005. In Troy's first game against UC Irvine, the four Trojan newcomers (guards Gabe Pruitt and Dwayne Shackleford and forwards Nick Young and Emanuel Willis) combined for 29 points, 5 assists and 6 steals in 52 total minutes played. Pruitt and Shackleford alone accounted for 25 of those points on 10 of 14 shooting (71%). While the going was much rougher against North Carolina and La Salle, the group still combined for 18 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and 6 steals against the Tar Heels and 24 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals against the Explorers. The quartet got back on track against BYU, as it accumulated 29 points, 11 assists and 5 steals against the Cougars (Pruitt and Young accounted for 26 of those points).

HOME NON-CONFERENCE MARK -- The Trojans were 32-5 in non-conference games at the Sports Arena under Henry Bibby, a stretch that included 24 in a row from 1999-2003. USC was 3-2 in non-conference home games last season.

HOME 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.

SCARCITIES -- There's no doubt that the Trojans have a lot of depth this season, which has resulted in fewer minutes and shots to go around. In four games thus far, only three players--Rory O'Neil, Lodrick Stewart and Jeff McMillan--have logged more than 30 minutes in a game. Only two Trojans (O'Neil and Stewart) have attempted more than 10 field goals in a game.

19,995's A CROWD -- That's the number of spectators who were in the stands to watch USC play North Carolina. It was the second-largest regular season crowd in Trojan history, with the crowd for the 1986 USC-Syracuse game being the largest (27,610).

THE FIRST WIN -- The Trojans tipped off their season with a 90-70 win at home against UC Irvine on Monday, Nov. 22. Freshman guard Gabe Pruitt and senior guard Errick Craven each scored 13 points to lead six Trojans in double figures. Senior forward Jeff McMillan added 12 rebounds to go with his 12 points, while junior guard Dwayne Shackleford added 12 points, including three 3-point FGs. The Trojans trailed by one point at the intermission but took control in the second half, outscoring the Anteaters, 54-33. Troy was a blistering 13 of 24 from 3-point land (.542%), its best long-range shooting since hitting 10 of 16 threes (.625) against Washington St. in 2002.

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).

LAST YEAR'S GAME AGAINST FRESNO ST. --Led by 19 points apiece from Desmon Farmer and Lodrick Stewart and a 14-rebound effort from Jeff McMillan, USC erased an eight-point second-half deficit to defeat host Fresno State, 65-62. USC trailed 52-44 with 11:43 to go before embarking on a 9-0 run over the next 2:43 to lead 53-52 with 9:00 left. USC still led 62-60 with about five minutes left after a Stewart three-pointer. The two teams then played a stalemate for almost five consecutive minutes, each team coming up empty on six straight possessions. Farmer broke the drought with 28 seconds remaining in the game, making 1-of-2 free throws to give USC a 63-60 lead. After two Bulldog foul shots, Fresno State sent Rory O'Neil to the line with 13 ticks left and he made both to give USC a 65-62 lead. Legans attempted two three-pointers on the Bulldogs' final possession, missing one with three seconds left and another at the buzzer. Fresno State led by as many as nine points in the first half (30-21) before heading into the half ahead 32-24. Farmer tied his then-season-high with six three-pointers on 14 attempts.


Official USC Press Release from dec. 6, 2004:USC head men's basketball coach Henry Bibby has been relieved of his duties, effective immediately, USC athletic director Mike Garrett announced today (Dec. 6).

'I understand that the timing of this is unorthodox, just four games into the season,' said Garrett. 'But I feel strongly that our men's basketball program needs to go in a different direction. And it was obvious to me that the change had to be made now.

'This was a difficult decision. Henry has done some wonderful things during his nine years at USC. He took us to three NCAA tournaments and even got us to the Elite Eight. But a change had to be made despite the unusual timing.

'We will begin an immediate search for a new coach. As an athletic director, I am always aware of prospective coaches in all sports who fit our profile. These people will be considered in our search.

'Assistant coach Jim Saia will serve as our interim head coach for the rest of the season. I am confident that he and the other assistants will do a great job.'

Bibby, who was in his ninth year as head coach at USC after spending a year as a Trojan assistant, had a 131-111 overall record. His 1997, 2001 and 2002 teams made it into the NCAA tournament, with the 2001 squad advancing to the Elite Eight, while his 1999 team was an NIT participant. However, the Trojans were under .500 the past two seasons, going 13-17 in 2003 and 13-15 last year.

The Trojans currently are 2-2 this season. They host Fresno State this Wednesday (Dec. 8) at the Sports Arena at 730 p.m.

Saia, 40, is in his first year at USC. He spent the previous seven seasons (1997-2003) as an assistant at UCLA. His other coaching stops included assistant jobs at California (1988-89), Indiana State (1989-90) and Fresno State (1990-94), and then two years as the head coach at Columbia Junior College (1995-96). In 1994, he was head coach of the Athletes In Action USA team.