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MARCH MADNESS / NCAA TOURNAMENT

Bibby Resorts to Sweet Talking

East Regional: Coach tries to impress upon streaky Trojans the significance of a victory over Boston College.

March 17, 2001|MIKE TERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Does USC truly appreciate the position it is in now?

That's one of the questions Coach Henry Bibby is asking on the eve of the Trojans' East Regional matchup against Boston College at Nassau Coliseum for the right to move on to the Sweet 16 next week in Philadelphia.

Not only were none of the current Trojans born the last time USC got past the first round of the NCAA tournament--try 1954--some of their parents weren't alive either.

"Talking to my kids this morning," Bibby said Friday, "I don't know if they understand the impact of winning one more game and where it gets you. I don't know if they care to understand that, sometimes. And that's the problem we have.

"Hopefully they realize that, with one more game to go tomorrow, it can put you into a whole different category. You will be at the table with the elite schools in the country. That's what my job is, to help them understand that."

Getting to the tournament for the first time since 1997, and winning a first-round game for the first time since 1992, did leave some of the Trojans hungry for more.

"That first taste was real good," Brian Scalabrine said. "It's like my favorite meal. I want as much as I can get."

Bibby, though, would have liked the response of reserve forward Jarvis Turner best of all.

"This team is so confident right now, we won't be happy with just one win," Turner said. "We're playing our best basketball, [guard] Brandon Granville has stepped up as a leader. If we keep having three or four guys play well every night, we feel we can't be beat."

But USC's streaky nature makes today's game a tossup against the Eagles, a hot team that didn't play its best basketball Thursday against Southern Utah but still managed to win.

In their 69-54 victory over Oklahoma State, the Trojans played two extremely different halves. In the first half they did little wrong, rolling to a 48-19 lead. But in the second half they did little right, at one point getting outscored 25-10 and giving Oklahoma State momentary hope it could come back.

Granville said the team would keep the first half in mind against Boston College.

"They're a top 10 team, and won the Big East," Granville said. "That first half helps a lot. But we had talked at halftime about not coming out complacent or trying to protect the lead--as it looked like we did.

"But as long as we come out and play with confidence and aggressiveness like we did, we'll be all right."

The Trojans also get their second consecutive opponent that will have most of the Nassau Coliseum crowd's support, and that brought a compelling story to the tournament.

Boston College did not have the kind of tragedy to rise above that Oklahoma State did; the Cowboys lost two players among 10 people killed in a Jan. 27 plane crash.

Still, the Eagles' program was nearly wrecked by a feud between then-coach Jim O'Brien (now at Ohio State) and an admission director.

In 1997, the Eagles were also Big East champions and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament. Among the prizes in O'Brien's recruiting class were Boston inner-city schoolboy stars Elton Tyler (now at Miami) and Michael Bradley (now at Villanova after leaving Kentucky).

Tyler and Bradley were denied admission, although the reasons were never explained to O'Brien's satisfaction and the players were eventually asked to reapply. O'Brien, a Boston College alum, left for Ohio State, taking a few players with him.

Al Skinner was hired to replace O'Brien in 1998 but faced a bare cupboard. Instead of Midnight Madness, his first practice was midnight tryouts as he tried to find enough players to field a team.

In Skinner's first three seasons, the Eagles went 32-56.

"It's hard to believe the program posted a 6-21 record two years ago," Eagle forward Jonathan Beerbohm said. "I hope this shows everyone how far we've come. To succeed you have to go through bad times before you get to good times."

This season the Eagles were the first Big East team to go from last to first in the conference. They won the Big East regular-season and tournament championships. Including Thursday's first-round victory over Southern Utah, Boston College is riding an eight-game winning streak.

"They are a very good basketball team," Bibby said. "They press, they get offensive rebounds. They shoot the three probably more than any team I've seen. You have to be concerned about some of those things."

As with Oklahoma State's Maurice Baker, the forefront of Boston's attack comes from a point guard, Troy Bell. The 6-foot-1 Big East co-player of the year averages 20 points and 4.2 assists. Everything the Eagles do offensively starts--and sometimes ends--with Bell.

The Trojans are suitably impressed.

"He does everything well," Granville said. "Goes left, goes right, shoots off the dribble, shoots the three, is 85% at the free-throw line--he doesn't have any true weaknesses. We play a lot of defenses, so we'll keep switching up and try to confuse him a little."

The Eagles aren't a big team; their tallest players, Uka Agbai and Brian Ross, are 6-8. But they hustle on the boards. Against Southern Utah, Boston College claimed 52 rebounds--29 at the offensive end.

"We're not really a big team, either," Scalabrine said. "We're a wide team that likes to get the ball inside. But definitely a key to the game is controlling the rebounds. And we should have an advantage in that spot."

Xavier Singletary, who made the winning basket in Boston College's 68-65 victory Thursday, agreed.

"Height doesn't measure heart," Singletary said. "But USC is more athletic than the team we faced on Thursday. We will have a more difficult time contending with their height."

*

TODAY'S GAME

USC

vs. BOSTON

COLLEGE

EAST REGIONAL

Uniondale, N.Y.

2:30 p.m. PST

Channel 2

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