TUCSON — What do you say to a team that shoots only 28% from the field, is blown out by 34 points and has now lost five straight conference games?
USC is the team and George Raveling is the coach and he doesn't chastise his players because he doesn't want to undermine what confidence they have left.
It was another embarrassing defeat for the Trojans Thursday night at McKale Center, where they were routed by Arizona, 78-44, before a crowd of 12,904.
USC was struggling at halftime when it shot only 30% from the field while trailing, 36-22. It got worse for the Trojans in the second half.
Arizona led, 46-30, and then went on a blistering, 16-0 run to send USC reeling into the cold, desert night.
USC, 5-8 overall and 0-5 in the Pacific 10, is off to its worst conference start since 1976-77 when the Trojans lost their first six conference games.
The Trojans came close to their all-time losing margin, 37 points against UCLA in 1966.
USC shot only 25.9% in the second half. Arizona shot 58.3% and, when the game was obviously out of hand, Raveling cleared the bench. Players who seldom get much playing time such as Aaron Dyer, Ruben Goodsell, Todd Nigro and Ivan Verberckt were on the floor at the end.
The Wildcats, who are co-favored to win the conference along with California, are now 7-4 overall and 2-1 in the Pac-10. The 34-point spread was their largest winning margin since they joined the Pac-10 in the 1978.
"We were mentally ready to play," Raveling said. "I thought we had a chance in the first half, but we couldn't stay with them because of our inability to shoot. In the second half, it was just mop-up time."
Raveling pointed out that his team's poor perimeter shooting contributed to the one-sided defeat.
USC's guards, Rich Grande, Brad Winslow and Ivan Harris, shot a combined 4-for-21 from the field (14%). They were similarly ineffective Monday night in a 64-58 loss to Stanford at the Sports Arena, shooting 6-for-28.
USC forward Derrick Dowell, the team's leading scorer and rebounder, played only 20 minutes. He scored only 10 points on 4-for-12 shooting and grabbed 4 rebounds.
"He still has the stomach flu and wasn't reacting the way he should," Raveling said. "He played as hard as he could, but he's not fully recovered. We rested him so he could be ready to play against Arizona State Saturday afternoon."
USC came into the game shooting 46.6% from the field and that percentage was lowered by its performance Thursday night.
How do you get a team to start shooting straight?
"You just tell them to shoot as much as they can until they get their confidence back," Raveling said. "If you say too much about it, it becomes a psychological thing."
Raveling has other problems. He said he has basically a seven-man team and, if he asks them to press continually on defense, they would wear out in a hurry.
"We also don't have the flexibility to rest guys at the guard spot," Raveling said, indicating there is a considerable drop off in talent behind Grande, Winslow and Harris.
It falls in the category of beating a dead Trojan horse but it's obvious that USC could utilize three freshmen from last season--Tom Lewis, Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble--who transferred to other schools at the of the school year in 1986.
So how is Raveling holding up under such adversity?
"It hurts to see these things happening to the kids," he said. "It has been a long time since I've had to deal with something like this. I'd have to go back to my first two years at Washington State (in the early '70s)."
So Raveling and his Trojans will try to regroup against Arizona State.
"I have to keep them interested and motivated," Raveling said. "If the players think I've given up, then they'll give up."
Arizona Coach Lute Olson said there were two keys to his team's easy win: "Our offense was more aggressive in attacking their defense and our defense made it tough for them to get good shots." . . . Arizona was led by center Tom Tolbert, who scored 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting. Forwards Sean Elliott and Anthony Cook, each had 10 points. Elliott, who was previously averaging 17.7 points, has been suffering from the flu. USC Coach George Raveling said that Arizona is a solid team that isn't particularly dominating in any one area, but doesn't have any glaring weaknesses, either. USC got a solid performance from freshman forward Bob Erbst, who played 39 minutes and got 11 points and 9 rebounds. . . . Olson and his players were already looking ahead to Sunday's game here with UCLA. Olson reprimanded UCLA forward Reggie Miller for throwing some elbows in a game last year at Pauley Pavilion. Said Olson: "I think the thing we have to worry about is our players being too ready. They know that they and their coach are on the Miller checklist."