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College Basketball

Placement Test

Half a Dozen Teams Are in Good Standing in Top-Heavy Pac-10, and USC Could Be First--or Sixth--After Facing Arizona Today

February 16, 2002|PAUL GUTIERREZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Give California's Shantay Legans and UCLA's Billy Knight credit for creating this mess.

Take away the guards' buzzer-beating, game-winning three-point baskets against USC this season, and the Trojans would be in first place, two games up in the loss column on the rest of the Pacific 10.

Instead, Legans and Knight have helped create a six-team logjam that has Arizona in first by half a game at 10-4 and a five-way tie for second among USC, UCLA, Oregon, Stanford and California at 9-4.

The 25th-ranked Trojans can break up the pack a bit today by upending No. 9 Arizona at the Sports Arena.

Beat the Wildcats and USC is most likely in a tie for first place with four games to play in the regular season. Should the Trojans lose, they probably fall to sixth.

Arizona faces the possibility of falling from first to sixth.

"I wouldn't have thought this was possible, but I knew this year that every team is right there with equal strength," said USC senior forward Sam Clancy. "Anybody can beat anybody on any given night so I'm not too surprised with the way it is.

"We still like where we're at. We just have to go out and play hard, and we've got to get this one. The margin for error is very slim. We can't afford any mental breakdowns."

The Trojans suffered a complete meltdown the last time they faced Arizona.

In USC's worst game of the season, the Wildcats ran out to a 31-point lead en route to a 97-80 win in Tucson on Jan. 17.

Arizona employed a 3-2 zone defense that had 6-foot-8 Luke Walton at the top disrupting passing lanes and daring USC to shoot from outside.

The Trojans tried and failed ... miserably.

USC made only one of its first nine shots, two of its first 22 and five of its first 29 on its way to shooting 25.7% from the field in the first half.

"We need to move the basketball," Trojan Coach Henry Bibby said. "We're expecting they're going to play zone, so we need to get some good looks."

Bibby has stressed that the way to beat a zone is to make open shots from the wings, which are created by ball-handlers penetrating the zone and then passing the ball out.

"They've got some gaps in their zone that we've seen the past couple days watching tape," said USC senior point guard Brandon Granville, who sat out Friday's practice because of a stiff left knee after an on-court collision against Arizona State on Thursday night. He said he expects to be ready to play today.

"Coach has put in a couple of new plays, trying to attack those specific areas," said Granville, who was scoreless against Arizona in January.

And with the streaky David Bluthenthal buoyed by his performance Thursday, when he had 21 points and 10 rebounds, and freshman Errick Craven's once-weary legs rested, Bibby is seemingly finished tweaking his starting lineup.

Against Arizona State, Bibby sat Bluthenthal and Craven, and started sophomore Jerry Dupree and senior Gennaro Busterna. A return to normality is expected today.

Arizona is coming off an emotionally taxing 77-76 loss at UCLA in which its two best players, Walton and junior point guard Jason Gardner, each played 40 minutes.

"We've got to come out and kind of jump on them from the start," Granville said. "We need to come out and play well early for our own confidence because we haven't played well the last couple of times we've played them.

"No matter how much you say it doesn't affect you, it still feels good to come out and play well in the beginning and get a lead or be right there with them."

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