Defending the Crown

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USC women's basketball made an historic run to the Pac-12 Tournament title last season under head coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, earning an NCAA Tournament automatic bid in the process. Now, the second year coach leads the Women of Troy back to Seattle, hoping to bust some brackets again.

Click here for a tournament preview.

In the first round, No. 8 USC will try to beat No. 9 Colorado for the third time this season. The Trojans and Buffaloes will tip-off at 6 p.m. PT on Thursday (Pac-12 Networks) with the winner advancing to play No. 1 Oregon State on Friday at 6 p.m. PT.

Click here for the complete bracket.

Photo Gallery: 2015 Spring Practice #1

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New faces and old scattered Cromwell Field Tuesday as the Trojans returned to practice to begin Spring Football.

Here are the John McGillen photos:

Good JuJu

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Written by Sarah Bergstrom, USC blog contributor

Sophomore point guard Julian Jacobs is embracing the well known saying, "success occurs when opportunity meets preparation" as he leads the Trojans into their final week of regular season play.

When freshman Jordan McLaughlin went down with a shoulder injury midway through the Utah game on February 1, Jacobs confidently stepped in at point. Averaging 8.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game over the whole season, the captain turned up the heat in February when his team needed him most. In the last month, Jacobs averaged 10 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game, becoming one of just two players from a major conference to average at least 10 points, five rebounds and five assists per game in that stretch (D'Angelo Russell, Ohio State).

But while the latter half of conference play has been his opportunity to shine, Jacobs' performance on both sides of the court has been impressive all season. He boasts a .503 field goal percentage (top 10 in the Pac-12) and is second on the team with 32 steals. His superb court vision allows him to distribute efficiently from the point, placing him at second on the team in assists with 95. But it's his athleticism that enables him to lead the team with 18 dunks, an emphatic signature he's stamped onto the end of many of USC's top plays this season.

Jacobs is looking to leave his mark on the Trojans' final regular season game on Wednesday night. USC travels to Westwood to face the Bruins at 6 p.m. PT (ESPN2) where it hopes the momentum from Saturday's win over Washington will propel them to another victory.


2015 Spring Practice #1: Notes

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Written by Sarah Bergstrom, USC blog contributor

The Trojans' first spring practice of 2015 is in the books and it was a spirited showing for the team that was happy to get back on the field...
  • "It was really fun to watch the competition, to watch our guys battle one another and make each other better," head coach Steve Sarkisian said after Tuesday's practice. "We don't play a football game for six months. The key for us is to focus on today. How we are getting better individually and as a team, physically, mentally and emotionally. We can't worry about the stuff that's down the road."
  • The major focuses for the spring include replacing the holes left by NFL departures and graduating seniors along with an emphasis on finishing games. Sarkisian said he and his coaching staff looked at the close games that the Trojans lost in 2014 and are dedicated to fixing that through specific drills in spring practice. "The defense won the finish challenge today. They took the first three of five," Sarkisian said. "We want to work to be at our best at the end of practice, at those most critical moments. We will continue to run drills that simulate the final two minutes of the game."
  • Sarkisian continues to be impressed with Cody Kessler who has raised the bar for himself and his team heading into the upcoming season. "From putting this offense in a year ago to where we are today, I don't know if I could be more pleased with Cody," added Sarkisian. "He's really operating at a high level. There is a chip on his shoulder, he's really hungry and he wants to get better. It rubs off on his teammates and that's exactly what you want from a fifth-year quarterback."
  • The senior quarterback is looking to build upon the momentum from a fantastic junior season and has already honed in on elements of his game that need improvement, including accuracy and timing. "I'm focused on getting the ball off faster, putting the ball where it needs to be even before my receivers are there," explained Kessler. "That is going to come with time but it's something I'm working on this spring."
  • Though his name is already being mentioned in preseason Heisman conversations amongst the nation's most elite quarterbacks, Kessler's focus remains on the postseason goals he has for his team rather than himself. "Talking with Marcus [Mariota], he said last year that he'd trade his Heisman trophy for a national championship any day. That's a mentality that you have to have. If you don't put your team goals first, you're never going to be successful."
  • Tuesday was the first chance for USC's early entrant players to officially practice with the team, and Sarkisian was happy with the result. These players include OT-OG Roy Hemsley, OT Chuma Edoga, QB Ricky Town, WR Isaac Whitney and LB Cameron Smith. "They got into the flow of practice which is all you can really ask of them at this point," the head coach said. "They flashed in some areas and then they had their moments where they didn't make a play as well as they would have liked. All in all, the first college practice for those guys was about as good as you can get."
  • New USC offensive line coach Bob Connelly had his first official practice as a Trojan as well. Sarkisian said he is impressed with the coach and the way senior center Max Tuerk (on his fourth offensive line coach in four years) is helping his teammates with the transition. "I'm excited about our offensive line," Sarkisian said. "The depth that we have there is as good as any I've seen here or anywhere I've been in a long time. That group is going to be good. I don't think just next year, but they're going to be good here for awhile."
  • Sarkisian was also encouraged by the state of many players who are back after injured 2014 seasons. Some of these players include OT Jordan Austin, DT Kenny Bigelow, LB Lamar Dawson, LB Jabari Ruffin, and RB Tre Madden.
  • Dawson was one of the players that really stood out in the first spring practice, which Sarkisian credited to a successful offseason conditioning program. "Lamar seemed like a different player to me than what I'd seen all of last year," explained Sarksiain. "He's very confident and he's moving very suddenly. He came out today and looked great. I was very encouraged by that."
  • With the departure of Buck Allen, the majority of carries this fall will presumably be split between junior RB Justin Davis and redshirt senior RB Tre Madden, who is still working back from a toe injury suffered last fall. Madden impressed the coaches on Tuesday with his strength and dedication to be back in his best form. "What I forgot about Tre is how big and physical he is," Sarkisian said. "He and Justin complement each other really well. Justin has great speed and cutting ability and Tre has such a hammer mentality along with a great football IQ and an ability to catch the ball. For his first day back he looked pretty good to me."
  • Sophomore TE Bryce Dixon was not at the Trojans' first practice due to a student conduct issue.
  • Here is Sarkisian after Tuesday's practice...

2015 Spring Practice #1: Rapid Reaction

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Tuesday signaled the start of spring practice for USC, and the players were full of energy as they returned to the field at full speed.

Listen to the team's rapid reaction after day one, featuring RB Justin Davis and LB Scott Felix.

Trojans in Business: Marihelen Tomer

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Written by Caroline Deisley, USC blog contributor

Name: Marihelen Tomer

Resume: Founder of LuvWay

Sport at USC: Women's Soccer

Caroline Deisley: So I saw that you founded LuvWay after a mission trip. What was that experience like and how did it inspire you to create a nonprofit? 

Marihelen Tomer: I've done a ton of mission trips and a ton of traveling. I think when you see so much need in the world it can be quite overwhelming. There are so many problems but if we all had the attitude of trying to be the answer to just one of them, then more could be solved. For me, seeing all these abandoned babies and orphans in Kenya made me want to help. This is the problem that I want to help find the solution for. 

CD: Did you ever think growing up or when you were at SC that this is something that you would eventually do?

MT: I knew I always wanted to help people but I didn't know in what capacity. I thought I would be a social worker or a teacher maybe, but I didn't think I would be working towards opening up orphanages in Kenya and beyond. 

CD: How did you decide to go on these mission trips? Did you just want to travel and it was a way to get out there?

MT: I always wanted to travel, but I wanted to help people too. A friend told me about a trip that was 11-months long and you got to go to 11 different countries and backpack around the world. It sounded like the greatest thing ever. You get to live out of a backpack, live with people, help them and do everything from green bean farming in Malaysia to orphan care in Haiti. How could I pass that up after graduation?

CD: What do you think has been the hardest part since you founded LuvWay?

MT: I think the hardest part is the fundraising aspect. Everyone is in the business of fundraising. It can be hard to get people behind your cause and allow your cause to touch their hearts so they are willing to open up their wallets. The goal is to make them want to partner with you financially in a project. Anything takes money, building an orphanage takes money. So that's probably the hardest thing, getting people to be behind the project and support it. 

CD: I saw that you did a couple fundraising events with soccer camps. What was it like combining your two passions into something that you could put on as an event?

MT: I think it's great because my biggest network is soccer so to get the soccer community behind what we've done is really great. Seeing three institutes come together to support orphans in Kenya is really cool and really unique. 

CD: When you first created LuvWay what were your original goals and have you stuck with them and seen them come into fruition?

MT: When we first started I had no idea even what a nonprofit was. I ordered a package online and googled how to put together a nonprofit. I realized I needed board members so I asked a couple of friends and then decided we should throw a soccer tournament to fundraise and came up with the idea to make bracelets. The goal has always been the same, and it's to build this home in Kenya, but I think how we've gone about it and our understanding of how to run a nonprofit is increasing. I'm learning a little more about how to fundraise and strategize. Who do we want to partner with? What's our target audience? We're learning the business side of it better, but the end goal is the same. We want to build this orphanage. It's cool to see people come together like architects who have donated and people who want to donate blankets. I had a friend ship blankets from Germany. It's great to see little pieces of it coming together. 

CD: Is it hard to keep your main focus and remember what you are all doing it for when you get bogged down with paperwork and the business side of it?

MT: I think sometimes it can be. I remember some of those late nights when I was filling out papers for our 501c grant thinking, 'what does this have to do with what I really want to do and why does the IRS need to know this?' All we want to do is build an orphanage. I try to keep pictures of some of the kids we worked with in the past and some of the kids that have inspired us, especially some of the ones that have passed away because they were neglected. I always try to remember them and that's usually what fuels the fire.

Alexyz All-Pac-12

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Senior Aleyxz Vaioletama is wrapping up her USC women's basketball career in style, clinching All-Pac-12 Team honors for the first time. The captain's recognition comes at the end of a stellar regular season in which she led the Trojans in scoring, became the No. 11 all-time USC rebounder and twice scored a career-high 24 points.

Fellow senior Kaneisha Horn and freshman McKenzie Calvert also earned their first career Pac-12 awards, with Horn being named All-Pac-12 Defensive Honorable Mention and Calvert being selected to the All-Freshman Team.

To read the full release click here.


Trojan Tidbits: USC Golf Indoor Simulator

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Ever wonder what makes USC's golf program so good? Without a doubt, the phenomenal athletes on both the men's and women's teams have elevated USC into the top tier of the collegiate ranks. But it's access to technology like the indoor simulator in Heritage Hall that allow the Trojans to push the ceiling even further.

Check out the team's unique technology with men's golf junior David Kim...

DeRozan Dominating

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Written by Sarah Bergstrom, USC blog contributor

It took a little while, but DeMar DeRozan is back in top form and the Toronto Raptors couldn't be happier. The former USC small forward is the Raptors' leading scorer, averaging 18.3 points per game, and on Monday, he upped his performance even further scoring a season-high 35 points in a resounding win over Philadelphia.

He was 12-for-24 with nine rebounds and five assists in his best all-around performance this season. With a little over a month left in the regular season, the Raptors are first in the Atlantic Division and second in the Eastern Conference due in large part to the recent return of DeRozan from a groin injury that sidelined him for 22 games in December and January. 

DeRozan put the exclamation point on his big night with this slam dunk...

MVB Back to Work

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Coming off its first tough stretch of the season, No. 7 USC men's volleyball gets back to the grind this week against No. 3 UC Irvine (6 p.m. tonight) and UC San Diego (7 p.m. tomorrow) at Galen Center. The Trojans had eight days to digest their three-match losing streak and get healthy for this home stand.

Click here for tickets.

Head coach Bill Ferguson sat down with David Foley to preview the upcoming showdowns at Galen Center.