For the University of Southern Cailfornia basketball team, December has been a month of travel.
When the Trojans (6-2) play Holy Cross (6-1) at 9 tonight, after St. Joseph's (5-3) meets the host Terrapins (6-2) in the Maryland Invitational Tournament at 7, it will mark USC's second East Coast trip in less than 2 1/2 weeks. The final is set for 9 p.m. Saturday.
Back on the West Coast, Trojan fans are down on their team, which was a consensus top-10 pick in preseason. USC is led by 6-9 center Cliff Robinson, one of the nation's top sophomores, and Coach Bob Boyd supposedly has outrecruited crosstown rival UCLA the last two years.
With the MIT, the Trojans will have played seven of their first 10 games on the road. They lost to top-ranked Duke at Durham (79-65) and to Xavier two nights later in the first round of the Volunteer Classic in an upset. Boyd responded by starting two freshmen forwards, Maurice Williams and Beonel Marquetti, and his team came back to knock off highly ranked Kansas last week in Los Angeles.
"We're very young and our team is truly a year away from being its best." Boyd said. "Prior to the season starting, I said our realistic goal for December would be 2-0 in the conference, which we are, and 7-3 overall."
The Trojans' two-point win at Stanford, a game in which they were criticized for almost blowing an eightpoint advantage in the final two minutes, looks even better now, because UCLA lost to Stanford Wednesday night.
Robinson had his best USC game against Kansas, scoring 34 points and getting 17 rebounds.
However, JuCo transfer Dean Jones, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound junior, is the man who has given the Trojans stability. For example, he did not play the first half of the California game. USC was two points down at the half. Jones started the second half, the Trojans immediately went ahead by 11 and Jones had 10 assists in 17 minutes.
Williams has flu and might not play much tonight.
Holy Cross brings a six-game winning streak into Cole Field House in addition to junior guard Ron Perry, No. 2 scorer in Division I with a 30.8 average. Perry is the only returnee among the Crusaders' top three players a year ago, but the young team is doing well.
The key is that Coach George Blaney recruited a freshman point guard, Bob Kelly, who has taken much of the load off Perry, enabling the son of the Holy Cross athletic director to concentrate on being a second guard, instead of running the show. It had been said that Perry needed only a solid back-court mate to bring out his best talents.
He is shooting 55 percent from the field and 92 percent from the foul line, after his successive free-throw streak was snapped recently at 43. "Rick Berry, Bill Sharman and Ronnie are the three best foul shooters I have ever seen," Blaney said.
Sophomore Dave Mulquin, former All-Met at Georgetown Prep, will start at forward for Holy Cross.
Maryland, with five straight victories, rates a slight favorite to win its own holiday tournament for the seventh time in eight years. UCLA won in 1974.
The Terps' fast break has been efficient the last two games, averaging 126 points per contest, including a 15-point win over North Carolina State. That brought the Maryland season average to 92 points per game.
St. Joseph's has two strong inside players in 6-8 Boo Williams and 6-6 Norman Black. But the Hawks have lacked consistent outside shooting, so opponents can pack a zone tightly and gamble the Hawks will misfire from outside.
Navy and Howard will open tournament play tonight while American and Virginia continue action in the Tangerine and Sugar Bowl tournaments, respcetively.
Howard (5-2) will face Morehouse (3-4) at 6 p.m. in the first round of the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Invitational. The host school (6-1) will play Edward Waters (2-6) in the second game.
Navy (5-3) will be a slight underdog against Central Michigan (4-4) in the Evansville (Ind.) Tournament at 8. The hosts (3-5) will play Arkansas State (2-3) in the other game.