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USC Stays on Mission for the NIT

March 11, 1994|LONNIE WHITE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

EUGENE, Ore. — Over the last three weeks, something strange has happened to the USC basketball team.

Instead of playing like the underachieving group that lost eight of nine games during a five-week period in January and February, the Trojans have turned into a dangerous postseason tournament-caliber team.

On Thursday night, the Trojans reinforced the transformation by overcoming an eight-point second-half deficit to defeat Oregon, 84-75, before 5,977 at McArthur Court.

Watching the Trojans make key three-point baskets and foul shots down the stretch while playing aggressive defense is something that would not have happened two months ago.

But it did against Oregon, however, when Burt Harris and Tremayne Anchrum made consecutive three-point baskets and Damaine Powell came off the bench to make four of four free throws in the final 3:38 to help secure USC's third consecutive victory.

"We're playing with a lot of confidence and a lot more pride than we did early in the season," said Harris, who finished with 16 points. "We're playing like we have nothing to lose and now we're playing like we should have been playing all season."

With the victory, USC took a giant step toward securing a National Invitation Tournament bid by improving its overall record to 15-11 and its Pacific 10 Conference mark to 8-9.

Since Feb. 19, the Trojans have defeated Arizona State and Oregon on the road and California and UCLA in back-to-back games at the Sports Arena.

USC played like a team on a mission in the first seven minutes against the Ducks (9-17, 5-12) in taking a commanding 20-9 lead, thanks largely to nine points by Anchrum. The Trojans had the game under control until they suffered an early-season relapse in allowing Oregon to outscore them, 23-13, to close the first half.

Oregon then took a 52-44 lead with 11:58 remaining behind the three-point shooting of Orlando Williams, who finished with a game-high 22 points.

"I really wasn't worried then because I looked up at the clock and saw that we had a lot of time left to play," said USC Coach George Raveling, whose Trojans have won consecutive league road games for the first time in two years. "To be honest, I felt that we had better talent than they had and if we kept them shooting on the perimeter, I'd been happy."

With freshman Stais Boseman guarding Williams, Oregon's offense began to self-destruct as the Trojans rallied to regain a 63-61 lead with six minutes to go.

"Stais just did a great job in denying Williams the ball and we made some big three's and our foul shots down the stretch," Raveling said. "This is as much poise we've shown on the road all season."

The Trojans made 14 of 19 free throws in the second half and shot 52% from the floor as they slowly pulled away from Oregon.

Aside from Harris' 16, Brandon Martin scored 15, Lorenzo Orr had 14, Anchrum had 11 and freshman Jaha Wilson added 10.

Trojan Notes

USC senior Mark Boyd grabbed 12 rebounds and is tied for 13th on USC's all-time list with 621. . . . The Trojans will play their final regular-season game Saturday when they travel to Corvallis, Ore., to play Oregon State. . . . The National Invitation Tournament will announce its 32-team field Sunday afternoon. Last season, USC reached the NIT quarterfinals before losing to eventual champion Minnesota.

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