When UCLA played USC last month at Pauley Pavilion, it was a milestone game of sorts.
For the first time since the 1931-32 season, both basketball teams came into the game with losing records. Nothing has changed in four weeks as the Bruins are 10-11 overall and the Trojans are 5-15 going into tonight's game at the Sports Arena.
The Bruins, however, are faring better than the Trojans with a 6-5 Pacific 10 Conference record and a share of fourth place with Arizona State. USC (3-8) is tied for eighth place with California.
UCLA is trying to avert its first losing season in 40 years. USC will most likely provide a steppingstone in that regard, considering that the Bruins easily disposed of the Trojans, 81-65, in the first meeting.
Arizona (10-1) has virtually clinched the regular-season championship, but UCLA could finish as high as second. The Bruins are only one game behind second-place Stanford (7-4).
UCLA would have to win most of its remaining games, though, to be even considered for a bid to the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. postseason tournament.
The winner of the season-ending Pac-10 tournament gets an automatic bid into the playoffs. Arizona plays host to the tournament, so that advantage virtually eliminates UCLA and other Pac-10 schools aspiring to extend their seasons except through the National Invitation Tournament.
USC Coach George Raveling says that the NCAA selection committee favors teams that finish strongly. He added that UCLA would merit consideration if it beats Notre Dame, Arizona and Stanford down the stretch.
"The problem that UCLA is going to run into is that there are so many teams with winning records," Raveling said. "There will be 10 to 15 teams with 20 wins that won't make the tournament. If there ever was a year that strength of schedule counts, it will be this year."
UCLA qualifies in that regard, having played Temple, Brigham Young, St. John's, North Carolina and Louisville.
"Of our 11 losses, the only game we weren't in was California," UCLA Coach Walt Hazzard said.
As for the Trojans, they raised false hopes with Raveling when they beat Washington State and Washington before a recent trip to Oregon.
The Trojans reverted to their previous form while losing to Oregon State (84-57) and Oregon (74-62), committing a total of 44 turnovers.
"I'm not at all certain why we didn't play better. But I think the thing that has haunted us all season continues to haunt us," Raveling said, "and that is just trying to find five guys who can all operate at the same time, together. Somewhere along the season it's going to happen, and we're going to jump out of it."
Time is running out on the Trojans, with only seven regular-season games left, including five at the Sports Arena.
USC's practice sessions have been more intense this week than at any time during the season. Raveling's players have been working out twice a day, starting with a 6:30 a.m. workout.
Tonight's game begins at 8 and will be televised by ESPN. . . . USC point guard Dave Wiltz has a strained left calf muscle and is questionable. Rich Grande will replace him in the starting lineup. USC guard Anthony Pendleton has completed his three-game suspension for a curfew violation and will be available tonight. . . . Asked to comment on USC's 5-15 record, UCLA Coach Walt Hazzard said: "When you bring in that many new people and try to put it together in a short time, you'll have some problems. But their talent is comparable to anyone in the conference." . . . Sports Illustrated recently referred to USC as "talent rich." If so, the Trojans have been hiding it for a while. The Trojans will be challenged to equal last year's 9-19 record. . . . USC Coach George Raveling has said that guard play has been the "Achilles' heel" of his team. The same can't be said for the Bruins. Pooh Richardson is a proven point guard, who became the school's all-time leader in assists against Oregon State Sunday. He has 527.
In the first game between the teams, UCLA took USC out early, leading 9-0 and 16-3. . . . Raveling has yet to beat the Bruins in three games since he became USC's coach. Hazzard has 4-3 record against the Trojans. . . . Raveling praised freshman forward Ronnie Coleman, who has scored 37 points in the last three games. "He's starting to look for his shot more, particularly his outside shot," Raveling said. "We knew he could hit it. It was just a question of him having the willingness to take it."