The names of several men have been mentioned as candidates to replace Stan Morrison as the basketball coach at USC. Bill Mulligan's is one of them.
The UC Irvine coach--once a USC assistant--has cautiously expressed interest in becoming Morrison's successor. And what better way to get the attention of USC's athletic administration than by beating UCLA in Pauley Pavilion?
Mulligan's Anteaters did just that last Thursday. Their 80-74 win over the Bruins in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament earned them a second-round matchup with Brigham Young University tonight at 6:30 in Provo, Utah.
The win over UCLA, witnessed by an unusually large group of UC Irvine supporters, is being regarded as the biggest in Mulligan's six seasons as the Anteaters' coach. It gave a measure of national attention to a team with a bit of an identity problem.
It also brought a little credibility to the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn., and, at the same time, took a little away from the Pac-10. It sure won't look bad on Mulligan's resume, should he be contacted by USC about changing jobs.
But Mulligan, who has three years left on his contract at Irvine, said that life--and his coaching career--will go on with or without a chance at the USC job.
"Right now, my gut reaction would be not to go," Mulligan said. "You can get to the Final Four easier at SC. There are more majors there. Those are the advantages. But I wouldn't care if I never hear from them. I've got a job."
For now, Mulligan's job entails preparing Irvine (17-12) for tonight's game in the Marriott Center. The Anteaters, who thought their season was over 12 days ago after a 66-58 loss to Cal State Fullerton in the first round of the PCAA tournament, are now two wins away from playing in Madison Square Garden, site of the NIT semifinal and championship games.
BYU (17-13) advanced to the second round with a 67-63 win over Southern Methodist last Thursday. The Cougars are 11-4 on their home court, including an 80-76 overtime win over Notre Dame Jan. 13. That upset was part of a 12-game winning streak BYU put together earlier this season.
The Cougars, once strong contenders for the Western Athletic Conference championship, lost four of their last five regular-season games, however, and finished fourth.
Sophomore forward Jeff Chapman is BYU's leading scorer with a 17.5-point average, but it's the Cougars' big backcourt of 6-4 junior Bob Capener and 6-5 senior Richie Webb that will give Irvine some familiar matchup problems at the guard positions. Capener averages 15 points, and Webb scored a career-high 18 in the victory over SMU.
BYU will have to be more successful than UCLA at containing Anteater forwards Johnny Rogers and Tod Murphy. Rogers scored a game-high 29 points against the Bruins. Murphy scored 20 and grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds. Both played the entire game, something Mulligan doesn't think he can count on tonight.
"We're gonna have to give Johnny and Tod more of a rest with the altitude there," Mulligan said. "We can't let them go 40 minutes."