Short-handed USC proves its critics wrong

Untried Trojans bench comes up big when called


January 26, 2000|By SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS

Southern California is bound to run out of bodies/gas any day now.

You just wait.

And wait.

And wait.

When they beat then-No. 2 Arizona on Saturday, the Pacific 10 Conference-leading Trojans were down to four starters and a bunch of guys loitering around their bench. That's all that was left when Sam Clancy and Jarvis Turner went down for the season Thursday.

The four starters who remain are pretty good, and they have a cause. Coach Henry Bibby has seen to that. After the Trojans' victory over the Wildcats, the unembraceable Bibby thanked the media that had written them off for the inspiration.

No matter that the only column like that floating around Los Angeles on Saturday was sympathetic in tone.

The Trojans, 5-0 in the Pac-10, still have Brandon Granville, the prototypical point guard; Brian Scalabrine, a 6-foot-9 power forward who can play outside; 6-4 guard Jeff Trepagnier, who cleared the equivalent of Scalabrine last spring in his first attempt at the high jump; and David Bluthenthal, who grabbed 28 rebounds Thursday against Arizona State.

Twenty-eight rebounds.

With two-thirds of the season to come, that's what kind of year the Pac-10 is having: Arizona State's Eddie House scores 61 points in a game; Bluthenthal grabs 28 rebounds; and two of the nation's top five teams, and five of the top 30, own Pac-10 addresses.

As accomplishments go, Bluthenthal's 28 rebounds reside somewhere within House's district. The artist formerly known as Lew Alcindor never grabbed 28. Neither did Bill Walton. The last Pac-10 player to do so was USC's Cliff Robinson, 22 years ago against Portland State.

This is the probably the first you've read of Bluthenthal, a 6-7 sophomore who took in 35 rebounds last season. Over the entire season. Going into his senior season at Westchester High School in Los Angeles -- when others were making names for themselves in the summer-camp circuit -- Bluthenthal was playing for the U.S. team in the Maccabiah Games in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Before Saturday, USC's hearty half-dozen had scored 93 percent of USC's points. That night, Bibby had to turn to the remaining 7 percent for the opening in his lineup. He started center Kostas Charissis, a freshman from Greece who had not played in the previous three games. Malachi Thurston, a freshman guard, made his Pac-10 debut. Nate Hair, a freshman guard, played 16 minutes. Walk-on Abdullah Elmagbari also played.

They helped beat the Wildcats by collapsing inside on power forward Michael Wright, who didn't make a basket, and by taking their chances with struggling wings Gilbert Arenas, Luke Walton and Ricky Anderson, who were a combined 1-for-13 on three-pointers.

Tomorrow, the Trojans, newly anointed the 23rd-best team in the country, travel to Oregon.

"We won't have Sam or Jarvis, we're on the road and there's no way we're gonna win," Scalabrine said. "Be sure all you guys write us off again."

And again.

And again.

Class of '03

There have been great freshmen to pass through the Pac-10, but perhaps never a group of them like this. At least not since Alcindor, Lucius Allen, Lynn Shackleford and Kenny Heitz played for UCLA's freshman team in 1965-66.

UCLA's Jason Kapono averages 15.3 points, Oregon State's Brian Jackson 14.4, Stanford's Casey Jacobsen 13.4 and Arizona's Jason Gardner 13.3. And that just begins to explain what they and players such as Arizona State's Shawn Redhage and Cal's Nick Vander Laan, Brian Wethers, Shantay Legans and Joe Shipp mean to their teams.

"The old description of a freshman doesn't fit anymore," Arizona coach Lute Olson said. "With Jacobsen, the tougher the situation the tougher he becomes.

"I've seen Kapono since he was in eighth grade. People will say someone's the next Magic Johnson or the next Larry Bird. When people would say he's a shorter Larry Bird, that one I can understand. If he gets overplayed, he'll back-cut you; if you slide behind a screen, he'll flair. He has a feel for the game that's beyond his years. What does he do for UCLA? I'd say everything."


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