USC's four freshmen probably won't become as famous as the singing group of the same name, but they're giving the Trojans a lift when they need it the most.
The young players--Hank Gathers, Tom Lewis, Bo Kimble and Rich Grande--all contributed Saturday afternoon as USC beat Arizona State, 81-72, at the Sports Arena.
They accounted for 64 of the Trojans' 81 points in a game of contrasting surges.
USC had apparently put ASU away with a 22-4 run in the last 10 minutes of the first half that carried over to a 48-30 advantage in the second half.
Then, the quick Sun Devils, behind the shooting of guards Steve Beck and Bobby Thompson, retaliated by outscoring the Trojans, 19-4, to get back into the game.
Arizona State managed to whittle USC's lead to three points four times before Coach Stan Morrison's young players settled down and pulled away to a comfortable margin.
Gathers, the new starting center from Philadelphia, was particularly effective in the closing minutes. He wound up with a career-high 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting and, remarkably, was 6 for 6 from the free-throw line, giving him a streak of eight straight free throws. The word remarkably isn't used loosely. Gathers, by his own admission, was simply an awful free throw shooter a few weeks ago.
"I was a terrible free-throw shooter in junior high school and high school, but I've worked on it," he said. "The first place Hank Gathers goes in practice is to the foul line. I shoot about a 150 a day. If you're a power inside player like I am, you've got to shoot foul shots."
Gathers is shooting only 45.7% from the free-throw line, but his graph is on an upward curve. He was a 33% shooter two weeks ago.
"He's like a kid with a new toy and he's having fun with it," USC Coach Stan Morrison said of Gathers' free-throw shooting. "But he's worked hard at it and is a very coachable person."
So the Trojans have improved to 3-3 in the Pacific 10, including a 63-62 win over Arizona on Thursday night. They're 8-7 overall.
Gathers got plenty of support from his freshmen teammates. Kimble, who played with Gathers at Dobbins Tech in Philadelphia, finished with 18 points on 9-of-13 shooting along with 5 assists, and Lewis got 19 points, making all seven of his free-throw attempts. Lewis has a streak of 16 consecutive free throws.
Grande, filling in for senior point guard Larry Friend, who bruised a nerve in his left elbow late in the game, was also effective. He had seven points and four assists.
The Trojans had to hold off the Sun Devils (1-4, 7-8) while their steadiest player, junior forward Derrick Dowell, was on the bench.
Dowell got his fourth foul 35 seconds into the second half and then sat down for seven minutes. Then, he had to leave the game for good when he got his fifth foul with 6:28 remaining.
Dowell was the baby sitter for the four freshmen in Thursday night's win over Arizona. Rod Keller, who had lost his starting job to Gathers, fulfilled that role Saturday afternoon.
The 6-9 Keller came through with a career-high nine rebounds.
"I'd be lying if I said it didn't bother me," said Keller, in reference to losing his starting position. "I'll just have to work hard to get it back."
USC trailed, 20-12, and had committed seven turnovers in the opening 10 minutes of the first half when the trend was reversed.
"In the first half, you saw some defense that was very similar to the Arizona game," Morrison said. "The players played hard, pressured the ball and then got it out on the spread court on offense, "They're talented kids and they believe in the blue collar work ethic."
But USC, despite shooting at a 65.1% clip (28 of 43), couldn't savor the luxury of an 18-point lead early in the second half as Arizona State picked up the tempo of the game.
Three guards, Beck (15 points), Thompson (18) and Arthur Thomas (18) were doing most of the damage with accurate outside shooting.
Arizona State is trying to regroup without its leading scorer, Chris Sandle, who was recently declared academically ineligible.
"We just became lackadaisical and stopped running," Gathers said. "You can't do that against a team with all that quickness."
USC had a tenuous 62-59 lead with 5:53 remaining. Then, Kimble hit two jump shots, Keller added a free throw and Gathers worked inside for two power baskets, getting a perfect lob pass from Kimble for one of them.
And, when Lewis made a three-point play after getting a sharp pass from Grande, the Trojans were out of danger with a 74-63 lead with 2:20 to play.
Morrison said earlier in the season that he had too many freshmen on the floor at the same time and that they he had to be complemented by experienced players.
Well, the freshmen, for the main part, are running the show now.
"The young guys work so hard in practice that the older guys have to play," Gathers said. "We're fighting for playing time."
Trojan Notes Stan Morrison got his 200th career victory and his 100th win at USC. Morrison said that he got his first win over Cal State Hayward while coaching at the University of Pacific. "But I more vividly remember my second game as a coach," he said. "It was against a red-headed center (Bill Walton) with a coach (John Wooden) who had a rolled up newspaper in his hand at Pauley Pavilion. I learned more from the second game than the first. They're still calculating that score." . . . USC resumes conference play Wednesday night against California (3-2) at Berkeley.