The chant went up at the end of USC’s 74-57 victory over Washington State Saturday at the Sports Arena.
“NCAA, NCAA,” shouted Trojan followers in the crowd of 6,321 who spilled onto the court.
The Trojans, who finished the regular season with a 19-9 record, 10-8 in the Pacific 10, expect to earn their first NCAA tournament bid since 1985.
USC Coach George Raveling said he won’t lose any sleep waiting for today’s announcement of the NCAA pairings.
“I’ll sleep well tonight because I know one thing, there’s only one person on that (selection) committee that I don’t know very well,” Raveling said.
“I know they’re people of the highest integrity and there’s just no way we’re not going to make it. If we’re not going to make it, then there are not going to be the 64 best teams playing this year because there’s no doubt in my mind that we’re one of the 64 best teams.
“I’m not worried about it. I’ve been around this thing 30 years and I know we’re in. They can’t have a tournament without us. I know one thing, there will be a lot of coaches that will get less sleep than me. “
After the Trojans lost five of their first seven Pac-10 games, Raveling maintained that USC would finish strongly because it played seven of its final 11 conference games at home.
And the Trojans ended the season by winning eight of their final 11 conference games, including victories over Arizona and UCLA, to clinch at least a tie for third in the Pac-10 with Arizona State, which beat Oregon State, 84-69, Saturday night.
After being criticized for failing to guide the Trojans into the NCAA tournament in his first four seasons, Raveling savors this season.
“I’d be lying if inside me there’s not something saying, ‘Well, you got your laugh first and I got mine last,’ ” Raveling said. “For all those people who call in on all those (radio) shows and say I can’t coach, I know one thing, a lot of guys who can coach aren’t going to the tournament and we are, so coaching must not be that important.
“I think it’s a reward for (USC Athletic Director Mike) McGee because a lot of AD’s might not have had as much guts as he did to stay with me. To tell you the truth, he could have probably let me go last year and there wouldn’t have been a lot of criticism for it.”
Washington State Coach Kelvin Sampson credited Raveling for the Trojans’ resurgence.
“I like USC’s team,” Sampson said. “I’ve liked them all year long. I think it’s a real credit to George that he kept his kids hanging in there and focused even though they started off bad. Their start was kind of like our finish.”
Sampson thinks the Trojans would play well in the tournament.
“They’ve got a go-to guy in (Harold) Miner, a guy who can score down low in (Ronnie) Coleman and a great point guard in (Robert) Pack,” Sampson said. “Those are three pretty good players and the other guys complement them well.”
The Cougars couldn’t contain Miner, who scored 28 points--19 in the second half--to become USC’s single-season scoring leader with 665 points, passing John Block, who scored 654 points in 1966.
“I think the sky is the limit for Harold,” Raveling said. “Each year Harold has to redefine his goals and get away from generating satisfaction from scoring points. If he’s going to be a great player he’s going to have to understand the game from a mental standpoint. He’s going to have to excel in rebounding and defense.”
The Trojans played exceptional defense in winning their third consecutive game. USC’s man-to-man defense held the Cougars to 29% shooting, 20% in the second half. The Trojans forced 23 turnovers, including 14 in the first half.
Leading by 10 points at halftime, USC outscored the Cougars, 12-3, at the start of the second half. Although the Cougars cut it to 10 midway through the second half, the Trojans used a 22-9 run to take a 23-point lead before Raveling cleared his bench.
“I think the two teams are very closely matched,” Sampson said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of difference between these two teams. But they got Miner to step forward and hit the big shots when they needed them. Today we didn’t have anybody step forward.”
WSU (16-12, 8-10) lost its last four games, but still posted its first winning record since 1983. The Cougars hope to receive a bid to the National Invitation Tournament.
“I caught the fans chanting ‘NIT,’ ” Sampson said. “What’s wrong with that? I hope they’re right. What are we, condemned to the dungeon for a month because we go to the NIT?”
USC finished with a 12-2 home record, its best since going 12-2 at home in 1983. . . . Harold Miner has scored 1,243 points in two seasons, the highest two-season total in Pacific 10 history. UCLA forward Don MacLean had 1,233 points after his first two seasons and former Arizona forward Sean Elliott had 1,076 after his sophomore season. Elliott went on to set a Pac-10 scoring record of 2,555 points.