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Inside College Basketball | WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

Gobrecht Deserves More Time

January 16, 2003|MIKE TERRY

Anytime a team loses or is perceived as underachieving, the immediate outcry is for the coach to be fired.

But USC should not yet consider dispatching Chris Gobrecht, even though the Trojans are in their worst funk since 1999, having lost eight of their last 10.

Gobrecht, who recently surpassed 400 wins and is in her sixth season at USC, set herself up for speculation on her job security.

She was certain she had one of her best teams at USC, and embarked on a challenging nonconference schedule that included ranked teams Kansas State, Connecticut, Tennessee, Notre Dame and UC Santa Barbara. All five pounded the Trojans by double-digit scores.

"I still believe in tough schedules, but if I had this one to do over I wouldn't have done it," Gobrecht said.

One of the benefits of a tough schedule is that a team can gain strength and seasoning for conference play. But USC is 1-4 so far in the Pacific 10, its only victory coming against winless Washington State.

USC is making only 21.5% of its three-point shots, while opponents are making 31.6%. In their last three games against Washington, Santa Barbara and UCLA, the Trojans were a combined three for 40 from three-point range.

Since the Trojans rarely stretch out defenses, center Ebony Hoffman looks like a coat rack because so many people are draped around her.

This is not to say USC won't turn its season around. There are 13 conference games left, as well as the Pac-10 tournament, which determines the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA field of 64.

But even if this season turns into a full-blown disaster, Gobrecht should stay.

For one thing, she has a limited roster of nine scholarship players. One key reserve, Ryane Alexander, decided last spring not to return. Another, Portia Mitchell, had academic problems and has left school. Two walk-ons are in their place.

So there is little depth on the Trojan bench, and no sense of team identity. Roles are not clearly defined, and not every Trojan has shown she is a Division I caliber player.

Kathy Olivier was in a similar situation with UCLA but was allowed to ride out a bad season (actually two) and brought in a strong freshman class that has rejuvenated her program. She has another one coming in next year.

Gobrecht recruited six talented high school players for next season. They could provide USC the needed shot in the arm that UCLA got. If nothing else, Gobrecht should have the same first year with this incoming class that Olivier has had with hers.

This may all be moot. Gobrecht signed a five-year deal in 2000, and it's doubtful that USC officials would want to eat the remainder of her contract as well as pay someone else.

But that won't stop the grumblings that USC looks directionless, that the players don't seem to be responding to Gobrecht anymore, that she should go.

USC would be wise not to listen.

Lions Roaring

If the Trojan brass needs more proof of what youth and depth can do, they can cast an eye toward Loyola Marymount.

The 10-5 Lions appear to be having the kind of season that was predicted for them last year.

Two years ago they won 21 games and seemed ready to become part of the West Coast Conference's elite. But last year Loyola Marymount slipped to 15-13, and some questioned if the Lions were one-hit wonders.

"We have some kids who are talented and have no fear in them," Coach Julie Wilhoit said. "When you have that youth and energy, it can put you on a [winning] side instead of having anxiety and the expectations of having been here before."

Wilhoit said such young players as freshman guard Bianca Ziemann and sophomore center Jennifer Henry are helping ease the loss of senior forward and leading scorer Kate Murray, who was lost for the season after five games with a torn ligament in her right knee.

Last year's team probably could not have weathered losing a player like Murray. But Wilhoit said she thinks this season's team can rise to the challenge of trying to make the NCAA or WNIT tournament without its best player.

"Our depth is helping us recover, and the length of the season is giving our young players time to mature," Wilhoit said.

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