Bibby Has Faith in Brooks, Craven

Times Staff Writer

The limp in senior Robert Hutchinson's step, the frustrating effect of a troublesome right ankle that he has already sprained twice this season, would seem to be a concern for USC as it prepares to begin Pacific 10 Conference play tonight at Washington State.

But while the most experienced of the Trojans' three-headed point guard attack is sidelined, Trojan Coach Henry Bibby is sure that sophomores Brandon Brooks and Derrick Craven can carry the load.

"Neither one of those guys has had substantial minutes so we've just got to wait and see," Bibby said Wednesday night at the team hotel. "Those two guys will do what they need to, I hope. But I think they can do it.

"They've been pretty good in practice and they've been [playing] point guard all year for us so we should be OK."

Hutchinson, who has not practiced since being injured against La Salle on Dec. 21, started the first four games and Craven, expected to get the nod against the Cougars, has started the last three.

But Brooks, a highly touted junior college transfer, got most of the minutes and produced after Hutchinson was helped off the court in USC's victory over La Salle. Brooks finished with seven points, six assists and two turnovers. And while he predicted before USC's first game that he would win the starting position by the start of Pac-10 play, Brooks is learning that in Bibby's system, playing at the end of the game is key.

"I'm just ready [for] whenever the team needs me to step up," Brooks said.

Bibby, meanwhile, is looking for more than minutes and stats.

"We need some leadership from those guys and for them to run the offense for us," Bibby said. "We need them to be the coach on the floor."



at Washington State, 7

Site -- Friel Court, Pullman, Wash.

Radio -- KMPC (1540), KPLS (830), delayed until the conclusion of the Orange Bowl broadcast.

Records -- USC 4-3, Washington State 5-4.

Update -- Washington State's most impressive outing was in a defeat, a 110-104 overtime loss to Gonzaga. The Cougars are led by junior guard Marcus Moore, averaging a Pac 10-best 21.1 points. The Trojans, who regain formerly suspended junior forward Jerry Dupree, have won four consecutive conference openers and are 5-1 under Bibby in such games. USC leads the all-time series, 60-32, and has won seven in a row.

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