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A Rival Is Right on Time

USC-UCLA: Bibby's Trojans have narrowed the gap, but a victory over Bruins at Forum tonight would help.

January 10, 2002|PAUL GUTIERREZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

On the surface, it seems like a mismatch of a rivalry.

When one team has won 13 of the last 14 games, how does it continue to be classified as a classic rivalry?

And when a coach has won only one of 10 meetings against his alma mater, how does he keep a straight face when he talks about the rivalry being "do-or-die for each school" before every game, every season?

"I've only beaten them once since I've been here," Trojan senior point guard Brandon Granville said. "So that pretty much says it all."

USC senior power forward Sam Clancy added: "When you only beat a team one time, obviously they've got your number."

Yet there is a feeling that the vast gap between the championship tradition of UCLA and the precociousness of USC is closing under the direction of Henry Bibby, the Trojans' sixth-year coach who won three national championships as UCLA's point guard.

The unranked Trojans (12-2 overall, 4-0 in the Pacific 10 Conference) and No. 11 Bruins (11-2, 4-0) meet tonight at 7:30 at the Forum and, for the first time since USC stunned UCLA with a season sweep in 1992, the Trojans have realistic hopes of claiming the Southland as their domain. They seem to be making inroads on the Bruins' turf.

"We actually have a chance this year," USC senior small forward David Bluthenthal said.

Of course, UCLA has its 11 national titles, but in the college hoops world of what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, USC has garnered gobs of attention after advancing to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament last spring.

"I'm building. I'm pioneering," said Bibby, who is 1-9 against UCLA. "I think I'm building the program and people are getting some recognition that we're a good basketball school that has to be reckoned with.

"But to be up there every year and to be in the Final Four every year, I probably won't see that in my tenure. But I think down the road, somebody's going to get the job, eventually, after my time is up, and make it happen.

"You don't get things quickly in life."

It's not that Bibby is being fatalistic. He's simply being realistic.

After serving on an interim basis to close out the disastrous 1995-96 season, in which USC lost 11 of its final 13 games, Bibby was hired by Athletic Director Mike Garrett to take over the moribund program for good on March 15, 1996.

"It was pretty obvious that we didn't have a program when we hired him," Garrett said. "But the fact is we were in the Elite Eight last year and because of how well we did and how well we're doing, we're right on the cusp [of a traditionally good] program, contrary to what you read or hear in the rankings."

USC made it to the NCAA tournament in Bibby's first full season as coach and, on Aug. 4, 2000, Garrett rewarded Bibby with a three-year contract extension that takes him through the 2004-05 season. There have also been talks of sweetening the pot financially after last spring's run in the tournament.

"I'm really happy with what he's done," Garrett said. "I always thought Bibby had the ability to create a program."

It's not the first time Troy has infringed on Westwood.

During Bob Boyd's 13 years as USC coach from 1967-79, the Trojans won at least 15 games nine times, including the 1971 season when they went 24-2, both losses coming to the Bruins, and finished ranked No. 5. But that was when only one school per conference could qualify for the NCAA tournament and Boyd beat UCLA only twice in 28 games.

George Raveling and his letter-writing campaign as Trojan coach from 1987-94 yielded Harold Miner, six wins in 14 games against UCLA and two NCAA appearances. But a bad car accident left Raveling fatigued and he could not keep up with the UCLA mystique either.

UCLA leads the all-time series, 118-93.

As a former Bruin, Bibby need look no farther than Westwood to see a model on which to base his program.

"That's what UCLA has over there," Bibby said. "They go back to 1963-64, when they won their first championship. You're looking at [38] years later and it's still the same thing. We don't have that tradition here in basketball.

"That's what Steve Lavin is getting at UCLA: what John Wooden did years ago, what Larry Farmer did, what Gary Cunningham did. [Lavin is] kind of reaping that 'We know how to win' tradition and get 20-win seasons every year. So hopefully it's going to be like that [at USC]."

The Trojans win the occasional recruiting battle with UCLA for Southland players--the Craven twins went to USC as a package deal because Lavin wanted Errick but didn't have room for Derrick--but the Bruins still win the war.

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