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USC Is Not Totally Convincing

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hey, USC.

You wrap up your nonconference schedule with a dominant 95-73 victory over Long Beach State before 6,697 at the Sports Arena. The win lifts your record to 10-2--three more wins than at this time last season--and five players score in double figures, led by Sam Clancy who had 24 points on 12-of-15 shooting from the field.

The 22-point spread, your second-largest margin of victory this season, should help you stay in the Top 25. But not at the No. 16 slot after Wednesday’s upset loss at Northwestern.

You’re not going to Disneyland, but are you a better team going into your Pacific 10 Conference opener than you were last season?

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“No, we’re not,” Coach Henry Bibby said.

Come again?

“Last year going into the Pac-10 we had Sam, Jeff [Trepagnier] and everybody there,” Bibby said. “Right now we’re having to compensate for not having Jeff. Our whole game plan has changed because of one guy not being in the lineup.

“We’ve had some ups and downs, and we’ve let teams back in games we should put away. That was a concern of mine tonight: Would we dig in and play defense or revert to what we’ve done in the past and keep teams in games?”

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USC had hoped Trepagnier, who has not played this season and is suspended by USC while being investigated by the NCAA, was going to be eligible Saturday for the Long Beach State game. But he was not cleared to return.

“We’re still hoping he will be back next week, and that will be another shot in the arm,” Bibby said.

On this night Trepagnier, while talked about, wasn’t missed. Besides Clancy (who also had 10 rebounds for his third double-double), Brandon Granville had 21 points, four assists and five steals. Brian Scalabrine, shaking off the last of the stomach flu he had earlier in the week, added 17 points.

Clancy, in many respects, was the key. One reason Long Beach is 7-5 is the 49ers have lost several of their big men to injury. Long Beach had no one to keep Clancy off the boards or deny him his favorite offensive spots.

Offensively, USC fed off Clancy’s performance.

“We had a team meeting last night,” Bibby said. “And I told Sam I thought he was playing better last year than he’s playing now. Last year Sam dominated every game [although he missed 10 games because of a broken foot]. This year he hasn’t dominated every game. He has had flashes.

“Tonight was a game he dominated for the 37 minutes he played. Again, I think he’s trying to get acclimated to how the [referee] calls are made. I think that has played a toll on his mind and his game. We’ve told him to go play and not worry how the officials will call it. And you see what he can do when he does that.”

Clancy, who “felt embarrassed” by the Northwestern loss, said he took Bibby’s words to heart.

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“He really got me thinking that I had to go out and have an impact tonight,” said Clancy, who leads the Trojans in scoring at 17.4 points per game.

“I haven’t been playing as well as I’ve wanted to all season. The last few games I’ve started to pick it up. But that’s what I have to do every night--step up and become more of a leader on the team.”

The 49ers, whose four-game winning streak ended, were led by Travis Reed, who had 19 points and 10 rebounds while battling Clancy as best he could.

But Reed got little help. USC contained Long Beach’s leading scorer Ramel Lloyd, forcing him to miss 10 of 14 shots and holding him to 15 points. As a team the 49ers were 27 of 63 from the field, five of 19 from three-point range and 14 of 30 from the free-throw line.

“I was leery of how good this team could be,” Bibby said. “Tonight I thought we had probably the best defensive effort we’ve had. And that’s very good going into Pac-10 play next week.”

“I felt we were in control of the game the whole time. They rely on three-point shooting, and that Lloyd is the key to their game. So we wanted to make somebody else make shots and be productive on the floor.”

An 18-5 spurt early in the first half gave USC a 25-15 lead, and the Trojans let the double-digit margin fall below 10 points only once more, when Long Beach got to within 41-33 with 3:35 left in the half.

But USC closed out the half with a 6-0 spurt. The 47 first-half points were the second-highest, first-half total for USC this season; They had 48 in the opener against Bradley.

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