Thursday, March 22, 2001

USC to UK: Put up your dukes

Trojans won't pass Wildcats to next round

The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal

        PHILADELPHIA — When the NCAA Tournament bracket was announced, many college basketball fans looked at the East Region draw and immediately thought of Kentucky-Duke III. Not Southern California coach Henry Bibby.

        “I penciled in us and UCLA for the heck of it and then kind of chuckled about it,” he said.

UK vs. USC
  • What: NCAA Tournament East Regional semifinal.
  • When: 7:38 p.m. today.
  • Where: First Union Center (20,060), Philadelphia.
  • Records: UK 24-9, USC 23-9.
  • TV: Ch.12, 7.
  • Radio: WSAI-AM (1530)
Tayshaun Prince-6-9-Jr.-17.2
  Jason Parker-6-8-Fr.-8.2
  Gerald Fitch-6-3-Fr.-6.9
  Keith Bogans-6-5-So.-16.8
  Saul Smith-6-2-Sr.-6.5
  Coach: Tubby Smith (fourth season, 110-32; 234-94 overall)
  Brian Scalabrine-6-9-Sr.-14.8
  Jeff Trepagnier-6-4-Sr.-8.6
Brandon Granville-5-9-Jr.-13.0
David Bluthenthal-6-7-Jr.-13.0
Sam Clancy-6-7-Jr.-17.3
  Coach: Henry Bibby (fifth season, 80-75; same overall)

• 0-7: USC's record against the four teams it played — Stanford, UCLA, Ole Miss and Arizona — that are still alive in the tournament.
  • 1-4: UK's record against the four teams it played — Ole Miss, UCLA, Penn State and Michigan State — that are still alive.

        Duke vs. the University of Kentucky still is on many minds, but to get to that re-match, the Wildcats must get past Southern Cal in a game that begins at 7:38 p.m. Thursday at First Union Center. UCLA and Duke will play in the nightcap. The winners will meet Saturday with a berth in the Final Four on the line.

        Kentucky (24-9), a four-point favorite, is playing in its sixth Sweet 16 in seven years. Southern California (23-9) last reached the round of 16 in 1961.

        Point guard Saul Smith was a member of Kentucky's 1998 national championship team. Smith, star forward Tayshaun Prince and backup guard J.P. Blevins were on the UK team that lost to Michigan State in the 1999 Midwest Region final.

        This is uncharted waters for the Trojans, which is why Bibby has tried his best to foster the image of Big Blue vs. tiny Trojans while not exhibiting signs of fear.

        “It's kind of nice to be the underdogs,” Bibby said Wednesday after the Trojans' practice at First Union Center. “... I'm happy to come in here with not too many people thinking about us. Everybody's looking at the other big three, and we're kind of like the little spoke in the wheel that's broke, and I kind of like that. We're looking forward to the challenge we have here in playing Kentucky.”

        Press Bibby to detail that challenge, however, and he balks.

        “Nothing concerns me about Kentucky,” the former National Basketball Association all-star said. “Kentucky has a great name. Kentucky has a lot of tradition. But, again, we have to go and play. We've played some very good basketball teams this year. We played Stanford, which was the No. 1 team in the country the majority of the year, to a two-point game.”

        The Trojans also lost by 44 to Arizona in February. The two-point loss to Stanford came in March, and Southern California has won five in a row and six of seven going into this game.

        “The kids are really positive, and they have the confidence that they can play with anybody,” Bibby said.

        Kentucky has won five in a row and 14 of 16.

        “It's always gratifying to be winning and performing at your best at this point in time,” Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. “It beats the alternative, which is having to be out recruiting right now. ... I'm really proud of this team. This team has done more and had to overcome more than any team I've been associated with.”

        Kentucky goes 10 deep while Bibby rarely subs. But Trojans point guard Brandon Granville said that's not a problem.

        “We approach the games as four-minute mini-games,” said Granville, who expects to play 40 minutes Thursday night, barring foul trouble. “You play hard for four minutes, and then there's a long TV timeout. That's how we're approaching it.”

        Smith downplayed the notion that his team has an advantage because of its experience in the NCAA Tournament. He said that is offset by the fact that Southern California starts two seniors and three juniors. Kentucky starts one senior, a junior, a sophomore and two freshmen.

        “I don't know what kind of advantage it might be for us,” he said. “We really don't have that much experience. ... In a single-elimination situation, the experience factor, as far as being here before, doesn't have that much to do with it.”

        What will matter more is which players step up. Prince has done it all season for the Cats, and last week in Uniondale, N.Y., he scored 58 points in victories over Holy Cross and Iowa.

        Southern California has shown more balance. Four players average in double figures in scoring, but power forward Sam Clancy leads the team in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots.

        Clancy also might be the most rugged player on the team, although Bibby said the Trojans lack toughness.

        “That's not our personality,” he said. “That's why I have to be a little tougher as their leader. We're not getting tougher, we're getting more focused. But we're still not a tough team.”

        Said guard Jeff Trepagnier: “I think we've gotten tougher, but we're really not tough-nosed guys. ... He tells us he wants us to be bad guys at some point during the games.”

        A 3-5 start served Kentucky well in that area, Smith said. So has its schedule.

        “We play a lot of big games at Kentucky,” he said. “Every time we go on the floor, we're probably the No. 1 team on our opponents' schedule, and I think that toughens our kids mentally.”

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