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SPORTS EXTRA / SELECTION-DAY REPORT / NCAA TOURNAMENT

USC Snubbed by NIT but Long Beach Plays On

March 13, 2000|MIKE TERRY and LON EUBANKS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

An unbearable day at USC was anything but across town at Long Beach.

USC's basketball season ended Sunday when the Trojans were not selected for the 32-team field of the National Invitation Tournament. Long Beach State, meanwhile, made the NIT and its players were pleased to learn they would have at least one more game--a first-round matchup Wednesday at California.

According to NIT officials, USC, 16-14 overall and 9-9 in the Pacific 10 Conference, was passed over in favor of Cal (16-14, 7-11) even though the Trojans finished sixth in the Pac-10 while the Bears were seventh.

But Cal, defending NIT champion, defeated USC twice in conference play this season.

"It was very, very close between them," NIT executive director Jack Powers said. "When we looked at head-to-head meetings we saw that Cal had won twice. That was the deciding factor."

USC Coach Henry Bibby, who spent the day recruiting, was unhappy with the decision.

"I don't know how Cal got in ahead of us," Bibby said. "Our [conference] record is better than theirs and we were in first place in January.

"Sam [Clancy] getting hurt made the difference in our season. But with Sam back and winning our last two games you'd think we'd have a chance. They may also be looking at who can host games, which may have played in Cal's favor more than anything."

USC players were also disappointed.

"We first had our hopes set for NCAA," Jeff Trepagnier said. "Then when we started sliding in the middle of season, we had our eyes on the NIT. But that hasn't worked out, either."

Brian Scalabrine, who was USC's lone representative on the the Pac-10 all-conference team, also felt the injuries to Clancy and Jarvis Turner sabotaged the Trojan's season.

"But injuries happen and you have to deal with them," Scalabrine said. "Still, we got a taste of what success was like early in the season, and the whole team is going to work hard in the off-season to taste it again next year."

Long Beach State, meanwhile was hoping its 24-5 record would open the door to an NCAA tournament at-large bid Sunday, but it settled for a spot in the NIT.

"I've been hoping that the New Mexico State game wouldn't be our last one," 49er center Mate Milisa said. "It's a disappointment to not be in the NCAAs, but we can't feel sorry for ourselves. We had a chance to win the automatic bid, and we didn't do it."

An overtime loss to New Mexico State in the Big West Conference tournament semifinals and a poor RPI rating were costly to the 49ers' NCAA chances.

"There were several other good teams that didn't make it, and I think the NIT will be a good tournament this year with all the strength in college basketball," said Milisa, Big West player of the year.

Long Beach Coach Wayne Morgan said he remains confident about his team's strength.

"I really believe we're among the 40 to 50 best teams in the nation," Morgan said. "I'm proud of what our kids have accomplished this season. There aren't many teams in the country with a record better than ours.

"One of the things that bothers me the most is the lack of respect shown our conference. I mean Utah State has the nation's longest winning streak and a 28-5 record and they're seeded 12th. You have to be kidding."

The 49ers have won 22 of their last 24 games. Their only loss in conference play was at home against Utah State, 71-63. Other losses were at Pepperdine by two points in the season opener and to St. Joseph's and Richmond in the Carrier Classic at Syracuse.

Morgan makes no apologies for his team's schedule, which is an important factor in the RPI ratings. "When we made four-year deals to play Kansas State and Loyola Marymount, they were a lot stronger than they were this season," Morgan said.

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