After completing the softest part of its schedule by disposing of Northern Arizona, 99-72, Saturday at the Sports Arena, USC’s basketball team faces the toughest part of its schedule--games against UCLA, Notre Dame and Arizona.
“Well, we get down to serious business from here on,” USC Coach George Raveling said. “As I told the players, the next three games are the reason we’re all involved in this. We’ve worked all year long for the opportunity to play against prestigious teams like UCLA, Notre Dame and Arizona.
“The fact that they’re all back-to-back really doesn’t make any difference. So we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
The Trojans play No. 16 UCLA Wednesday at Pauley Pavilion and take on Notre Dame Saturday at the Sports Arena before playing host to Arizona Jan. 11.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll be ready to go over and play the Bruins,” Raveling said. “The big question is, can we beat them? I just wish we had a little more time to get ready for them.”
Was it wise for USC (5-3) to prepare for its three toughest games by playing its three weakest opponents--St. Francis (Pa.), Central Connecticut State and Northern Arizona (5-5)?
“When you have a young team, their mental state is very fragile,” Raveling said. “Some people’s mentality is that we’d be better off playing Louisville and Georgetown. But if we came off of two 25-point losses to teams like that, I think it would be very difficult for a young team like this to regroup. So if nothing else, psychologically we can go into these games feeling good about ourselves.”
Raveling has every reason to feel good about freshman guard Harold Miner.
After scoring 37 points in the Trojans’ 92-68 win over Central Connecticut State on Thursday, Miner scored 24 points in 27 minutes against Northern Arizona. Miner, who scored only six points in the first half, had 18 in the final 20 minutes, making six of 10 shots, including two three-point baskets.
Miner departed with 5:37 remaining because of a back bruise, but he’s expected to play against UCLA.
“I’m really pleased with Miner in the last two games,” Raveling said. “He’s been shooting the ball with immense confidence, and he’s really in his rhythm. In the early games, I think he was caught up with trying to please me. He was playing not to make mistakes instead of to score points.”
After getting off to a slow start, Miner is averaging 23.3 points in his last four games.
“I feel a lot more relaxed now,” Miner said. “I feel real comfortable with the system and with what Coach Raveling wants out of me and my role on the team. I want to continue on and pick it up another level.”
Is Miner surprised that it didn’t take long for him to start scoring the way he did at Inglewood High, where he earned All-Southern Section honors last season?
“I felt if I worked hard and did what I had to do, I would get my shots,” Miner said. “I was just worried about the transition defensively, but I feel I’ve made a pretty rapid improvement.”
Northern Arizona Coach Pat Rafferty was impressed with Miner.
“Harold Miner is a super player,” Rafferty said. “He’s not half-good at this and half-good at that. He’s a complete player. He could be the best player in the league by the time he’s an upperclassman.”
Leading 21-17, USC outscored Northern Arizona, 23-5, in the final 11:07 of the half to take command.
The Trojans played superb defense, forcing Northern Arizona to take bad shots from the perimeter. The Lumberjacks shot only 25% in the first half, hitting eight of 32, and they wound up shooting 38.2% for the game.
Guard Keith Billingslea, who came into the game averaging a team-high 14.2 points, scored 10 points, missing 14 of 19 shots, including 10 three-point attempts.
It was a disappointing homecoming for Billingslea, who played at South Gate High and Harbor College.
Forward Steve Lizzul led the Lumberjacks with 16 points.