PALO ALTO — USC is a struggling basketball team and Coach George Raveling is shouldering the major portion of the blame for the Trojans' problems.
Those problems continued Monday night at Maples Pavilion, where Stanford routed USC, 88-62, in the Pacific 10 Conference opener for both teams.
"I don't think in all my years of coaching that I have misjudged a team as greatly as I have misjudged this team," Raveling said.
Raveling was enthusiastic before the season began, praising his new players and optimistically looking ahead to a productive season.
But it has been a bleak scene for the Trojans. By losing to Stanford, USC has a 1-7 record, the worst start in the school's history. And the Trojans have been playing the game since 1907.
Instead of berating his players, Raveling assumed the blame for the team's stumbling start--and he was doing some soul searching himself.
"I lay the blame entirely on myself," Raveling said. "It may be one of the worst coaching jobs of my career.
"When you reflect what's going on, I have to be the one to turn it around and I'm not getting it done. I accept full blame for where we are now."
Raveling said that he assumed his new players, a mix of freshmen, junior college transfers and some who were forced to sit out last season, would be ready to play cohesively at a major college level.
"But they don't seem to know what it takes to win at this level," Raveling said. "I've been in the game long enough that I should have taken that into account. I let my optimism run rampant."
Stanford (7-2) has now beaten USC eight straight times and the Cardinal didn't waste any time putting the Trojans away.
With only 10 minutes elapsed, Stanford led, 23-8, and improved its margin to 48-27 at halftime.
The Cardinal made 19 of 21 free throws in the first half, while the Trojans were converting only 3 of 5.
"We played hard in the first half, but our aggressiveness kept them on the foul line," Raveling said. "There were a multitude of reasons why we played so poorly. Stanford had something to do with it and so did we.
"I give credit to Mike Montgomery (Stanford coach). He did a good job of preparing his team. He jumped on us early and that's what you do against a struggling team. You don't want to let their confidence get going."
The second half was almost a replay of the first half, until Montgomery eased up on USC by liberally substituting.
Stanford led by 31 points twice and was ahead, 77-47, with 6:08 remaining.
Todd Lichti, Stanford's all-Pac-10 guard, made only 3 of 8 shots, but he was perfect from the foul line, 12 for 12. He finished with 19 points.
However, it was Howard Wright, a 6-8 forward, who tormented the Trojans the most. He was virtually unstoppable inside, making 10 of 12 shots to lead all scorers with career-high 24 points.
USC's interior defense is practically nonexistent now that center Chris Munk is ineligible.
Raveling had said earlier the this might be his best shooting team in a career that included head coaching jobs at Washington State and Iowa.
Again, he let his optimism run rampant. USC shot only 35.5% for the game and is shooting 41% this season.
The offense seems helter-skelter, relying more on outside shooting than an inside game. Guard Anthony Pendleton does most of the outside bombing.
He was USC's leading scorer with 22 points, making 6 of 18 shots from 3- point range. Forward Chris Moore was the only other Trojans in double figures with 17 points on 5 of 12 shooting.
Raveling has constantly altered his starting lineup this season. He did it again Monday night. Brad Winslow, who had been in a shooting slump, was paired with Ronnie Coleman at forward. Moore was in the post with Rich Grande and Pendleton at guards.
Winslow is still in a slump as he was 1 for 7 from the field. Pendleton took 29 shots, but made only 8.
However, Raveling substitutes so frequently that a starting lineup isn't that meaningful.
Stanford is one of most experienced teams in the conference and now that USC and UCLA are faltering (the Bruins were upset by California Monday night), it isn't inconceivable that the Cardinal will finish second behind Arizona.
The conference season is barely under way, but it seems that everyone is conceding the title to the No. 1 ranked Wildcats.
Montgomery was conciliatory when he talked about USC.
"USC will improve considerably as time goes on," he said. "Tonight's game is not an indication of the strength of the team. USC has a lot of new players and and it takes time to make them understand what it's all about."
Raveling still has a glimmer of hope for his team, which will play California Wednesday night in Berkeley.
"Despite the fact that I overrated the players, I don't feel we're as bad as we were tonight," he said. "I accept full blame for where we are now."