Coach Stan Morrison could clear some skeletons out of USC's closet if his team beats UCLA Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion. Morrison is already assured of splitting with the Bruins for the fifth time in his six seasons as USC's coach.
But Morrison could accomplish a lot more if his Trojans sweep the season series from the Bruins. That hasn't been accomplished since 1942 when the teams played four games in a season.
Just beating UCLA twice in the same season would have some historical significance. USC hasn't done it since 1961--the last year it won the conference championship. The teams played three times that year with UCLA winning the middle game.
But Thursday night's game has more significance than musty statistics. USC, which shares first place in the Pacific 10 with Arizona (11-4 records), would be assured of staying in first by beating UCLA. The Bruins (9-5) would be virtually eliminated as a title contender if they lose to the Trojans.
"We'll be playing a team (UCLA) that, with the exception of Arizona, is playing at a level of efficiency that is really remarkable," Morrison said. "It will take our best game of the season to win."
USC played one of its best games to beat UCLA, 78-77, in double overtime Feb. 1 at the Sports Arena. The teams then went in opposite directions after that game. USC won four more games, including a three-game sweep of Northwest teams on the road. UCLA lost three in a row, two to conference teams.
But the Bruins are surging again with a four-game win streak, including an impressive 75-65 win over Louisville Sunday.
"UCLA is definitely on a roll now," Morrison said. "I've seen their last three games on television. Their roles are very clearly defined and their bench comes in and immediately contributes and gets into the flow of the game."
Morrison said UCLA guard Nigel Miguel gets his vote as the best defensive player in the conference and that forward Reggie Miller is shooting so effectively from outside that he's glad the conference doesn't have a three-point line.
The USC coach hasn't decided on the matchups for Thursday night's game, adding that Miller's quickness presents a problem.
UCLA is unbeaten in conference games (6-0) at home this season, while USC has a 7-1 record on the road in league play. The Trojans haven't always been intimidated at Pauley Pavilion during the Morrison era. They won there in 1981, lost by three points in 1982 and took the Bruins into overtime before losing in 1984.
So a sweep is possible but, historically, it's not likely.
USC has two conference games remaining after UCLA, meeting Oregon and Oregon State March 7 and 9 at the Sports Arena. The Trojans also meet Texas at Austin Sunday in a noon game that will be televised by Channel 11. The game was originally scheduled in December but Texas Coach Bob Weltlich wanted the date changed and Stan Morrison accommodated him. Texas is 14-11 overall and 7-8 in the Southwest Conference. The game is rather meaningless, but USC could improve its chances for a 20-win season by beating the Longhorns. "We might as well play it," Morrison said. "Our guys would be just sitting around watching TV if we didn't have a game." . . . Morrison said that USC guard Glenn Smith is the best sixth man in the conference. Smith scored a career-high 20 points in a 86-65 loss to Stanford Thursday night and has averaged 9.7 points the last 11 games while coming off the bench. . . . Morrison wants to put the Stanford game out of his mind forever. USC has lost twice to Stanford (3-11 in the Pac-10), losses that are significant now. The Trojans would have a two-game lead in the Pac-10 if they could have handled the Cardinal. Stanford usually plays like a last place team against every school in the conference excepting USC. "My hat is off to Stanford," Morrison said. "I don't know if the five guys we start can play against Stanford. I don't know if it's us or them." . . . USC guard Larry Friend is now the school record-holder for assists in a season. He has 149, breaking the record of 140 previously held by Gus Williams.