Trojan Basketball Hosts Western Michigan

Dec. 15, 2004

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LOS ANGELES -- The USC men's basketball team--now 3-3 and under the direction of interim head coach Jim Saia--looks to win back-to-back games for the first time this season as it hosts 5-2 Western Michigan on Saturday, Dec. 18 at 12 p.m PT in the Sports Arena. The game 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, effective April 1, 2005. In the meantime, USC's season goes on. Six seniors fill the roster, but so far sophomore Lodrick Stewart and freshman Gabe Pruitt have provided the biggest sparks for the Trojans.

GAME #7 -- USC vs. Western Michigan. It will be telecast live by Fox Sports Net and broadcast live on KMPC 1540 in Los Angeles, KSPA 1510 in Ontario/Orange County and XEMM 800 in San Diego. Steve Hawkins, a native of Ventura, Calif., is in his second season as head coach of the Broncos, coming off a 26-5 overall record in 2004. His squad is led by guard Ben Reed (16.1 ppg) and forward Levi Rost (15.6 ppg). WMU feautures a tough defense that allows just 59.7 ppg. The two teams met for the first time last season, with WMU getting a 83-65 win in the USC opener at Kalamazoo, Mich.

INTERIM 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. 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 is assisted by Eric Brown and Bob Cantu. He holds down the top spot until Rick Majerus takes over on April 1, 2005.

LAST GAME -- Sophomore Lodrick Stewart poured in a career-high 27 points to lead USC to an 87-75 win over San Diego in the San Diego Slam Tournament last Saturday (Dec. 11). It was interim coach Jim Saia's first career win. Four other Trojans scored in double figures as USC shot 54% from the field--its best shooting performance in over two years. Senior Gregg Guenther added a career-best 16 rebounds, while freshman point guard Gabe Pruitt dished out a personal-high 8 assists. Brice Vounang led the Toreros with 26 points.

UP NEXT FOR THE TROJANS -- The Trojans head to Hawaii on Sunday to compete in the Rainbow Classic from Dec. 21-23. They'll open with Indiana State on Dec. 21 and will play two more games (on the 22nd and 23rd) against two teams out of the field of Hawaii, Clemson, Georgetown, Long Beach St., Oral Roberts and UAB.

COACHES IN FIRST GAMES -- With USC's loss to Fresno St., that means that five of the last six Trojan head coaches--Henry Bibby, Charlie Parker , George Raveling, Bob Boyd and Jim Saia--lost their debuts at USC. The lone win came courtesy of Stan Morrison in 1980.

COACHES IN FIRST ROAD GAMES -- Jim Saia won his road debut, an 87-75 win over San Diego. That made him the first USC coach since Stan Morrison in 1980 to win his first road game as Trojan head man.

LODRICK ON A TEAR -- In the first three games of the season (two of them Trojan losses), sophomore guard Lodrick Stewart averaged just 6.3 points, 1.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 0.6 steals per game. In the last three games (two of them Trojan wins), Stewart is averaging 20.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.0 steals, while shooting .478 on FGs, .818 on FTs and .400 on 3-PT FGs.

DIAPER DANDY ALERT -- 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 currently leads the team in FG% (.605), 3-point FG% (.435), FT% (tied at .833), assists (24) and steals (14). He is also third on the squad in scoring at 11.2 points per game. He has hit double figures in points in four of USC's six games. In fact, the Trojans are 3-1 when he scores in double figures. In the last three games, all contests in which Pruitt started, he is averaging 11.6 points, 5.6 assists and 2.3 steals.

SLOW STARTS-- USC had been getting off to some slow starts so far this season. The Trojans have been behind at the half in four of the six games played, with an average deficit of 4 points (38-34).

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 11.50 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 -- Coming into this week, the Trojans led the Pac-10 with an average of 8.33 three point baskets per game. That's close to 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 10,274 minutes, scored 3,627 points, snagged 2,020 rebounds and dished out 630 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.

McMILLAN OUT -- Senior forward Jeff McMillan--last year's Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year--has been out the last couple weeks due to a broken left hand, which he injured in the Trojans' first possession against La Salle. He could be back in time for the Rainbow Classic, but more likely will return to action as Pac-10 play begins.

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 each of the last five games. The only Trojan to start all six games has been senior center Rory O'Neil. The last two games have seen a sophomore and two freshmen start in the backcourt.

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.

USC HIRES RICK MAJERUS -- Rick Majerus, one of college's top basketball coaches who has won more than 400 games and made 15 post-season appearances in his 20-year career, was hired on Dec. 15 as USC's men's basketball coach, effective on April 1, 2005. Jim Saia, who was appointed USC's interim head coach when Henry Bibby was relieved of his duties as head coach on Dec. 6, will remain in that role the remainder of this season. Majerus, who signed a multiyear contract with USC, has stepped down from his current job as an ESPN college basketball analyst to avoid any conflict of interest. Majerus, 56, is 422-147 in 20 seasons as a head coach, with 15 of his teams playing in the post-season. He reached the pinnacle of his profession by coaching in an NCAA championship game. His career winning percentage of 74.2% ranks among the Top 20 all-time. He never has had a losing season while averaging 21 wins a year. His teams have been known for their outstanding half-court defense and finely-tuned offense, as well as their achievements in the classroom. He had great success in his 15 years (1990-2004) at Utah, where he owned a 323-95 record (.773) and was the National Coach of the Year in 1991, 1992 and 1998. His Utes made 10 trips to the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the 1998 championship game (they lost to Kentucky). His teams got to 4 NCAA Sweet 16s, including back-to-back Elite Eight appearances (1997 and 1998). His 1992 team was third in the NIT. His squads won 10 Western Athletic Conference titles. He coached 5 All-Americans.

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