There haven't been many positive aspects of the USC basketball season, but the improvement of some of Coach George Raveling's players in recent weeks is noticeable.
Forward Chris Moore has been a steadying influence, freshman Ronnie Coleman is more comfortable now in the transition from center to forward and Dave Wiltz is not the out of control point guard that he was at the start of the season.
Raveling is still optimistic that his team, 5-13 overall and 3-6 in the Pacific 10 conference and coming of a sweep of the Washington schools, can finish in the upper division of the league.
It's a reasonable appraisal considering that the Trojans are only two games removed from second place even though they are tied for eighth with California. Top-ranked Arizona is the runaway leader with a 9-0 record.
There's also the reality that USC will stay in the second division considering the parity--and mediocrity--of 9 of the 10 teams in the league.
If the Trojans are to make a run in the last half of the season, they'll have to win on the road, starting tonight against Oregon State at Corvallis, Ore.
"What pleases me the most is that the team has never stopped believing in itself even though the confidence level has been low at times," said Raveling, who admitted that his previous expectations had been unrealistic.
"I still believe that we can be a solid, productive college basketball team."
Moore, a junior college transfer from Birmingham, Ala., has been one of Raveling's most productive players in recent weeks.
The slender, 6-8, 190-pound forward has averaged 15.4 points and 6 rebounds in the last eight games.
Raveling has now settled on a starting lineup of Moore and Coleman at forwards, Chris Munk at center and Wiltz and Andy Olivarez at guards.
Coleman, from Dominguez High in Compton, was a starting center while Munk was academically ineligible for six games. Now he has returned to forward.
Roles are more defined on Raveling's team, and guard Rich Grande and forward Bob Erbst, former starters, are coming off the bench now.
Tonight's game against Oregon State begins at 7:30 at Gill Coliseum. The Beavers, 10-7 overall, 4-4 in the Pac-10, beat USC, 80-77, in overtime last month at Loyola Marymount on guard Eric Knox's three-point shot at the buzzer. USC had a four-point lead with two minutes left in regulation play. The Trojans have won the last three games played in Corvallis. . . . USC will play Oregon (9-8, 4-4) Saturday afternoon in Eugene. The Ducks beat the Trojans, 52-40, last month at the Sports Arena. USC went 11 minutes 12 seconds without scoring in the second half. . . . USC guard Anthony Pendleton's suspension will end after games with the Oregon schools. He was suspended by Coach George Raveling for a curfew violation. . . . Guard Dave Wiltz has averaged 6.7 assists in the last six games.