Some coaches of favored teams, when discussing an overmatched opponent, will look you solemnly in the eye and say that the opponent in question is the best 3-8 team in the country. USC basketball Coach George Raveling provided a twist to that theme when he said, "I'm the most optimistic 3-8 coach in the country. By no means am I discouraged."
Even though his Trojans are coming off a 46-41 nonconference loss to Colorado State Monday, Raveling is comfortable with his team's position in the Pacific 10 Conference.
USC is 1-1 going into tonight's game against Oregon at the Sports Arena. The Ducks (5-4) have yet to play a conference game.
"If we win our next two games (Oregon and Oregon State), we'd be no worse than second in the conference," Raveling said. "I steadfastly hold to the belief that USC is going to be a positive factor in the conference race. I like our chances of finishing in the upper portion of the league and that was our goal to start with."
Instead of dwelling on the overall record, Raveling would rather point out that his team is 2-1 since drastically changing its style. USC is now a more deliberate team in contrast to the up-tempo, three-point shooting outfit that lost seven of its first eight games.
Raveling said that teams he coached at Washington State and Iowa usually started slowly and he isn't sure why.
"The earlier years of my coaching experience taught me to deal with that type of situation," he said. "What I have to learn is to be patient, positive and poised, and those words are on a piece of paper taped to my bathroom mirror.
"If I don't do that, how can I expect my team to do it?"
USC geared down its offense Dec. 23 in a double-overtime win over Cal. Since that game, Raveling said, his team has improved its rebounding, shot selection, turnover ratio and defense.
The Trojans, however, will have to shoot better than 41.9% from the field, their current average, to justify Raveling's optimism.
Oregon is led by Anthony Taylor, a 6-foot 4-inch senior guard who missed four of his team's first five games with a broken toe.
"He is one of the premier guards in the West," Raveling said. "Eighty percent of Oregon's offense is geared to get him open shots."
Taylor is averaging 22.2 points a game and is shooting 57.1% from three-point range.
Keith Balderston and Taylor are the only returning starters from last year's team. Balderston missed two games and a portion of another with a sprained ankle, but the 6-8 forward is still averaging 9.9 points a game.
Oregon Coach Don Monson has filled the other starting positions with junior college transfers--6-6 forward Randy Grant, 6-8 center Brett Coffey and 6-1 guard Frank Johnson.
Trojan Notes Tonight's game will begin at 8 and will be preceded at 5:45 by a Pac-10 game between the women's teams of each school. USC's women are 6-3 overall, Oregon's 7-3. . . . USC center Chris Munk's six-game academic suspension imposed by the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. will end with Saturday's 2 p.m. game at Loyola Marymount against Oregon State. "As long as we're winning, Munk probably will come off the bench for the first couple of games when he becomes eligible," USC Coach George Raveling said. "Then, we'll assess where we go from there."