USC Coach George Raveling couldn’t find fault with the way his team hustled against Tennessee Saturday at the Sports Arena.
So that’s a positive factor, but there are no asterisks in a box score for individual effort.
The cold fact is that USC lost another game, 74-61, and has the dubious distinction of equaling the worst start in the school’s history.
USC’s 1-6 record is matched only by the 1931-32 team, and the Trojans have been playing basketball since 1907.
After taking a week off for final examinations, the Trojans will open the Pacific 10 Conference season Dec. 21 against Stanford at Palo Alto.
The Trojans played Saturday’s game without sophomore center Chris Munk, who is temporarily ineligible for academic reasons.
A USC spokesman said the duration of Munk’s ineligibility probably will be made known after final examinations.
With Munk unavailable, Raveling altered his starting lineup. Rich Grande, a starting point guard last season, replaced Dave Wiltz, and forward Chris Moore filled in for Munk. The other starters were guard Andy Olivarez and forwards Bob Erbst and Ronnie Coleman.
However, Raveling uses so many players, a starting lineup isn’t meaningful.
Raveling has said that his team hasn’t put together two good halves this season. And the second half is usually USC’s downfall.
The Trojans led, 34-33, at halftime and were ahead, 44-41, five minutes into the second half. Then, Tennessee put USC away with an 11-point blitz on its way to a 17-4 run.
USC frantically tried to catch up on guard Anthony Pendleton’s three-point shots, but he couldn’t drop enough of them to make a dent in the Volunteers’ lead.
Tennessee (2-0) is not recognized as a title threat in the Southeastern Conference. The Volunteers finished in a tie for eighth in the conference last season and won only 2 of 11 road games.
Welcome to the Sports Arena, where road miseries are cured.
Raveling, though, remains relatively optimistic.
“From a physical and intensity standpoint, we played as hard as we have played this season. I have no problem with that,” he said. “But, like in most games, we find a way to inflict wounds on ourselves.”
He was referring to USC’s free- throw shooting and rebounding. The Trojans made only 11 of 22 free throws. However, Tennessee had only a slight rebounding advantage, 38-34.
USC came into the game shooting only 58.4% from the foul line. The Trojans don’t compensate by their field-goal shooting.
USC shot only 37.3% Saturday compared to 53.8% for Tennessee. Raveling had previously said this might be the best shooting team he has ever coached. It certainly has plenty of room for improvement as it was shooting only 42.2% coming into the game.
The Trojans utilize the three-point shot like a fighter who is anxious to land a knockout punch but seldom connects.
USC launched 20 three-point shots and made 6. Pendleton was the designated bomber, converting 4 of 12.
Erbst, one of four returning regulars from last season’s team, isn’t discouraged, though.
“It’s just a question of repetition, going over things time and again,” he said. “Our new players haven’t been here that long to do all those repetitions and know the little things about Raveling’s offense and defense.”
Erbst then displayed a notebook of about 55 pages crammed with offensive and defensive data.
Asked if the players might be down on themselves considering the miserable start, Erbst said: “Raveling won’t let us be down.”
Tennessee was led by forward Dyron Nix, who had 21 points and 7 rebounds. Raveling has called him one of the best small forwards in the country.
Nix was supported by center Doug Roth, who had 17 points and 8 rebounds, and freshman guard Greg Bell, who added 13 points and asserted himself when the Volunteers pulled away in the second half.
After Olivarez made a backdoor layup to provide USC with a 44-41 lead, the Trojans went sour offensively, getting only two baskets in the next seven minutes.
Olivarez and Pendleton were the only Trojans in double figures, getting 13 and 12 points, respectively.
Pendleton scored 29 points, making 9 of 15 three-point shots in an 85-66 loss to Cal State Long Beach Wednesday night. He played only 22 minutes Saturday.
“You have to understand there is more (things) than just scoring. You have to contribute in other areas,” Raveling said when asked about Pendleton’s playing time.
Asked why Rich Grande replaced Dave Wiltz as the starting point guard, USC Coach George Raveling said: “We weren’t getting the type of point guard play from Wiltz that we needed.” . . . Tennessee Coach Don DeVoe said that his team’s improved inside play was the difference in the second half. “We shot 68% in the second half and USC shot only 28%, and that was the difference in the game. Anytime you win on someone else’s court you have to feel good,” he said. Tennessee’s next road game is Jan. 16 against top-ranked Kentucky, so the Volunteers can feel good about themselves for a while. . . . Asked to comment on center Chris Munk’s ineligibility, Raveling said: “Not without doing 10 to 15 (years) in Attica.” Federal privacy laws prohibit comment on a student’s academic record. . . . USC lost its best rebounder in the 6-foot 9-inch, 235-pound Munk. He had averaged 6.7 rebounds through six games.