USC Women Find Finishing Touch To Move Past Arizona 59-55 In Pac-12 Tournament
The No. 5 seeded USC women's basketball team kept its eyes on the prize despite No. 12 seed Arizona's effort to shake things up today, pulling off a tense 59-54 comeback win over the Wildcats in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament at KeyArena in Seattle. The Trojans proved up to the task, even when Arizona built a six-point lead in the second half. The lead changed hands 12 times, but USC kept its grip on that last shift. Now 19-12 overall, the Women of Troy take aim at No. 4 seed Arizona State tomorrow (March 7) at 2:30 p.m. in the quarterfinals.
USC Women Stay The Course To Pac-12 Semifinals
The No. 5-seeded USC women's basketball team locked in its 20th win of the season with a relentless focus on the finish line in today's Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal upset of No. 4 seed Arizona State at KeyArena in Seattle. The Trojans fought into a second-half lead and shrugged off a late push by the Sun Devils to register a 59-57 victory that propels the Women of Troy into tomorrow's tournament semifinals at 6 p.m. against top-seeded Stanford. USC now holds a 20-12 overall record with its fourth consecutive victory in the books.
The USC women's basketball team are home for the last time this season, setting up shop at Galen Center to take on the Arizona schools. The Women of Troy (14-11, 6-8 Pac-12) will first line up against the Wildcats (9-16, 2-12) for a 7 p.m. faceoff on Friday (Feb. 20). Friday's game will be a "pink" game at USC, where the Trojans will Fight On For Kay. USC's final game of the season at Galen will pit the Trojans against the No. 12 Sun Devils (22-4, 11-3) at 3 p.m. on Sunday (Feb. 22). Before tipoff, USC will honor its two graduating seniors, Kaneisha Horn and Alexyz Vaioletama in a Senior Day Celebration.
Friday's game against Arizona will be streamed live online at pac-12.com/videos/university-southern-california. Sunday's game will be televised on Pac-12 Networks, with Mary Murphy as analyst and Anne Marie Anderson on play-by-play. A live streaming broadcast is also available online to Pac-12 Network recipients at pac-12.com/live/. Live stats also will be available through links on the USC women's basketball schedule page at usctrojans.com.
IN THE NATION
The Trojans received votes in the USA Today Coaches Preseason Poll, but does not appear in this week's national polls. Arizona is unranked, while ASU is ranked No. 12 in this week's AP poll and is No. 13 in the USA Today Coaches poll.
USC came away with a solid road split last week, following up a 79-60 loss at No. 19 Stanford with a bounceback win at Cal, beating the Bears 65-54 in Berkeley. Against the Cardinal, USC pulled close in the second half but wound up out of reach in a 79-60 loss. USC had four players in double figures and won out on the boards, but the Cardinal just kept coming regardless. USC nudged ahead by five in the early goings of the first half, but the Cardinal responded and rallied into the lead with a 13-2 run. The Trojans and the Cardinal had been knotted up three times until Stanford broke through to generate a push to a 38-27 halftime lead. USC was ahead on the boards 17-16 through those first 20 minutes, but Stanford was scoring at a 52-percent clip from the floor to outpace the Trojans' 39-percent effort by the break. In the second half, USC cropped it down to a five-point game in the first three minutes, but Stanford's depth would win the day. The Cardinal would get 11 players in on the scoring action while the team shot 55 percent from the floor. USC had nine scorers, but shot 38 percent from the floor. USC wound down the game still leading on the boards, 38-34 by the final whistle, having hauled in a solid 19 offensive rebounds. Kaneisha Horn ripped down a game-high 11 rebounds for the Trojans to finish with a double-double on a 10-point outing for USC. It was her second double-double notched against the Cardinal this season. Horn was one of four Trojan double-digit scorers in the game, joined by Alexyz Vaioletama with a game-high 14 points, Courtney Jaco with 11 and Brianna Barrett with 10. Stanford, too, had four players in double figures, led by 14 from Lili Thompson along with 13 each from Amber Orrange and Briana Roberson and 12 from Bonnie Samuelson. Two days later in Berkeley, USC turned the tide on a rough first half and shocked host California with a 65-54 comeback victory. The Golden Bears were charged up by Rashanda Gray's 32 points and 10 rebounds, but there wasn't much more in the tank for Cal besides Gray, it turned out. The Trojans, meanwhile, shrugged off a 12-point deficit as seniors Kaneisha Horn and Alexyz Vaioletama put the team on their backs for a rallying cry into the lead. USC would keep coming while fending off the Bears to finish out the clutch performance in Berkeley. It was all Gray in the first half of action, with the Cal senior pinning up 18 points as the Bears fought out of a five-point deficit to lead the Trojans 33-25 by halftime. Cal was clicking offensively with a 52-percent effort from the floor through those first 20 minutes to beat out USC's 36 percent shooting. A remarkable second half by the Trojans saw USC pick things up to 50 percent while the Trojans outscored Cal 40-21 to forge that comeback path to victory. Cal would wrap the game shooting 40 percent from the floor, with USC edging up to 43 percent. The Trojans and the Bears wound up even on the boards 34-34. After enduring seven first-half lead changes and falling behind by 12 during the second half, the Women of Troy regrouped and got back in the game. An 11-0 rally got the Trojans into position, and after a three-point play from Vaioletama, USC had bumped back into the lead with a one-point edge at 11:45. The lead would trade hands seven times in the second half before USC really dug down. Horn and Vaioletama would finish up the game with a heroic 17 points apiece, while sophomore Alexis Lloyd had a career game with 14 points -- her first-ever game in double digits. Jordan Adams also came up big for USC with nine rebounds, six assists and three steals. Cal, meanwhile, was a one-woman show as Gray scored over half her team's points with 32 points and 10 rebounds on the night.
BIG ON THE BOARDS
The Women of Troy enter the week leading the Pac-12 in offensive rebounds (14.7 per game through Feb. 15). USC was particularly impressive on the boards Jan. 23 and 25, when the Trojans hauled in 25 offensive rebounds vs. Cal and then tallied 20 vs. Stanford -- outrebounding both teams overall as well. In all, USC has grabbed 20 or more offensive rebounds in four games, and was recently just off that mark with 19 O-boards grabbed at Stanford on Friday. The top rebounders for the Trojans are Kaneisha Horn and Alexyz Vaioletama, who average 7.1 and 6.8 rebounds per game, respectively, to date. Both seniors have upped their aggression on the boards in conference play, too. Vaioletama is averaging 7.6 rebounds per game in Pac-12 play, and Horn is up to 7.5 in conference games.
CALVERT CAPTURES CONFERENCE HONORS
USC's McKenzie Calvert became the first Trojan to earn Pac-12 accolades this season with her selection as Pac-12 Freshman of the Week on Jan. 5. She is the first USC freshman ever to win the award, which began in 2012. The guard took over as USC's top scorer on the season thanks to back-to-back double-digit games for the Trojans to kick off Pac-12 play. Calvert served up a team-high 16 points in a loss to UCLA and then came up with a 12-point outing along with a career-high five rebounds in a solid win over Oregon. Now averaging 10.2 points per game and standing as the team's third leading scorer, Calvert trails only sophomore Courtney Jaco in total threes made with 29 makes to date. The freshman has hit double figures in 10 games for the Women of Troy, highlighted by a career-high 21 points nailed vs. Cal State Northridge on Dec. 9. She also hit a team-high 20 at Colorado and had 12 at UCLA.
The Wildcats are 9-16 overall and 2-12 in Pac-12 play after falling to Oregon 75-61 and to Oregon State 73-48 last week. Candice Warthen leads Arizona in scoring with 12.8 points per game, and LaBrittney Jones leads on the boards with 6.1 rebounds per game. Arizona returns three starters from last year's team, which went 5-25 overall and finished last in the Pac-12 at 1-17. USC is 54-20 all-time against Arizona with wins in the past six meetings. Last year, USC beat the Wildcats 54-45 in Tucson and then posted a 59-54 win in the first round of the 2014 Pac-12 Tournament. Arizona's last win over USC was a 72-61 decision in the quarterfinals of the 2010 Pac-10 Tournament at Galen Center.
The No. 12 Sun Devils enter the week 22-4 overall and 11-3 in Pac-12 play after losing to Oregon State 70-64 and beating Oregon 72-52 last week. Katie Hempen and Sophie Brunner lead ASU in scoring with 12.0 and 11.9 points per game, respectively. Brunner also leads on the boards with 7.5 rebounds per game. ASU returns three starters from last year's team, which went 23-10 overall after an 11-7 finish in Pac-12 play for a tie for fourth place and a trip to the NCAA Second Round. USC is 54-20 all-time against Arizona State after a split last season. The Trojans lost to the Sun Devils 94-86 in overtime in Tempe last season, and then beat ASU 59-57 in the quarterfinals of the 2014 Pac-12 Tournament in Seattle.
A big key to success for the Trojans in 2014-15 has been a well-balanced attack. Nine of USC's 10 active players have each hit double digits at least once this season. And USC has had four or more different scorers hit double digits in 10 games, including four in the Feb. 13 loss at Stanford. Even in a season-opening loss at now-No.2-ranked South Carolina, USC had three players hit double digits, with career highs set for all three -- Kaneisha Horn (11 pts), McKenzie Calvert (11 pts) and Drew Edelman (10 pts). Two days later at Davidson, USC had all five starters score in double figures. The trend continued with Jordan Adams, Brianna Barrett and Alexyz Vaioletama staying the most consistent during USC's five-game win streak. That run was snapped when just two Trojans hit double digits in a loss at Saint Mary's, but the Trojans reloaded for the very next game and landed four more double-digit scorers in a win over CSUN on Dec. 9. On Dec. 14 against Sacramento State, USC piled season-best six players in double figures, with Kiki Alofaituli, Barrett and Horn each recording the first double-doubles of their careers. To date, USC has three players averaging double-digit scoring. Senior Vaioletama leads all with 12.2 ppg, followed by senior Horn at 10.3 ppg and freshman Calvert at 10.2 Junior Barrett is just off the mark at 9.7 ppg to date. As a team, USC has shot over 50 percent from the floor in six games and is shooting 41.4 percent overall, including a 31.9 percent effort from beyond the arc. Outside of two wins vs. Utah, the first at Colorado and the Feb. 15 win at Cal, the only games with three or fewer USC players in double digits have been losses (South Carolina, Saint Mary's, Oklahoma State, UCLA, Oregon State, Cal, Stanford and Oregon). The anomalies were big wins with just three double-digit scorers at Colorado and at Cal, at home vs. Utah, and then a low-scoring win at Utah with a season-low 46 points on 30.4 percent shooting with just Barrett finishing in double digits. The Feb. 13 loss at Stanford was the first time this season that USC has had four double-digit scorers and lost the game.
TIME TO SHINE
Now 25 games deep into the 2014-15 season, there are at least four Trojans who have truly stepped up their production significantly. Jordan Adams, Kaneisha Horn and Courtney Jaco have each more than doubled their scoring from last season, filling an important offensive void left by USC's departed players from last season. What's more, senior Alexyz Vaioletama has upped her game even more. She had doubled her effort from her sophomore season to her junior season, and now as a senior she's going even bigger. Vaioletama tops the Trojans with 12.2 points per game after a junior campaign in which she averaged 8.6 ppg. Also this season, Adams set a career high and scored the winning baskets for the Trojans with 15 points in USC's overtime win at Long Beach State. She'd up that with a 21-point outing recently vs. Cal. After producing just 2.8 points per game last season, Adams has upped her game and is scoring 6.9 points per game to go along with 3.9 assists per game. Now a senior after playing her first season at USC last year as a transfer, Horn notched a new career high with 11 in USC's opener at South Carolina and has since almost doubled that in scoring 20 vs. Sacramento State. She's now up to 10.3 points per game after going for 3.0 last season and has notched her first career double-doubles this season. Another Trojan who has flourished with a year under her belt is Jaco. A sophomore, Jaco nailed five 3-pointers at Long Beach State to set her career best with 15 points in that one. She averaged 3.7 ppg as a freshman and is at 7.2 ppg this season for the Women of Troy with 19 starts. Jaco also stands as USC's top 3-point shooter with 40 makes to date.
THE NEW CLASS
USC's freshman class is a unique blend, and together earned a ranking of No. 13 in the nation according to All Star Girls Report. Guard McKenzie Calvert has been called upon to get up to speed fast for the Trojan backcourt, while posts Amy Okonkwo and Kristen Simon have made an impact down low. The entire group has already made their presence known in the scoring column. Calvert leads the pack with 10.2 points per game with six starts in her 22 appearances, and is shooting 35.4 percent from 3-point range. Simon has stepped in for 23 games and is averaging 6.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Okonkwo has appeared in 23 games and is averaging 2.7 ppg. Freshman Chyanne Butler played in USC's second game of the season at Davidson and then requested her release from the program.
TAKING ON TOP TEAMS
USC face four fellow NCAA Tournament teams (South Carolina, Fresno State, Cal State Northridge and Oklahoma State) during the nonconference stretch this season. Of those squads, the Gamecocks and the Cowgirls finished 2013-14 in the national rankings. Pac-12 play will put another set of four NCAA Tournament teams on tap for the Trojans. In addition to USC's postseason journey, the conference saw Arizona State, California, Stanford and Oregon State take trips into 2014 NCAA action, while four more Pac-12 teams played in the WNIT last season. So far this season, USC is 0-6 against ranked teams (No. 2 South Carolina, No. 16 Oklahoma State, No. 11/7 Oregon State and No. 11/19 Stanford).
TUNE IN TO THE TROJANS
The 2014-15 Women of Troy will get plenty of face-time this season with 17 regular-season USC women's basketball games scheduled to be televised this season on the Pac-12 Networks. All but two conferences game are due to be televised. All told, USC face eight teams that reached the NCAA Tournament last year, and play a total of nine regular-season contests against teams that were either ranked or receiving votes in the final national polls last season. All non-televised USC home games will be streamed live at http://pac-12.com/videos/university-southern-california.
When the 2015-16 season rolls around, USC will have a set of three new Trojans ready for their first action. The most recent addition to that crew comes with the transfer of guard Sadie Edwards (Meridan, Conn.) to USC from UConn. She is currently enrolled in classes and is practicing with her team at Troy, but her eligibility for competition won't kick in until Jan. 2016. Meanwhile, USC has signed two newcomers to national letters of intent to join the Women of Troy as true freshmen for 2015-16 -- forward Marguerite Effa (Los Angeles) and guard Aliyah Mazyck (Charlotte, N.C.).
THE CHAMPS ARE BACK
Coming off the program's first-ever Pac-12 Tournament Championship and a return to the NCAA Tournament scene, the USC women's basketball team has raised its profile as the Women of Troy dig into their 2014-15 campaign. Under the guidance of second-year head coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, this season's squad is taking that taste of victory and staying hungry for more. Although the bulk of USC's scoring numbers came from two Trojans in particular last season, USC's secret weapon during its run to the conference crown was the ability for different players to shoulder the load at key moments. Sure, the All-Tournament Team honorees Cassie Harberts and Ariya Crook gave USC big boosts throughout the season, but it was the breakout performances of Alexyz Vaiolatama, Kiki Alofaituli, Brianna Barrett and Kate Oliver that packed the crucial extra punches as the Trojans pushed through the postseason. Harberts and Oliver have since graduated, and Crook has been dismissed from the program due to violation of team and university policy, but the Women of Troy are still a force to reckon with. Harberts and Crook combined for over 1,000 points last season, but it was Vaioletama who ran the rebounding game for the Women of Troy. A captain again this season, Vaioletama looms large as a standout senior now. She doubled her production from her sophomore season to her junior year, averaging 8.6 points and 7.7 rebounds per game last season. Not far behind her on the scoring front was Barrett, now a junior guard, who busted open some huge performances last year and looks primed for more. She hit 24 points for the Trojans in their return to the NCAA Tournament, going big in USC's NCAA First Round loss to St. John's in Knoxville, Tenn. Let it be noted, too, that Vaioletama was huge on the boards in that one, hauling in 11 rebounds in USC's season finale.
BALANCED ATTACK Brianna Barrett, Alexyz Vaioletama and Kiki Alofaituli each took at turn or a few as USC's top scorers in different games last season. Their ability to stand up as impact players is already proven, and Cooper-Dyke is eager to see other Women of Troy rise to dominance as well this season. Expect to see senior Kaneisha Horn and redshirt sophomore Jordan Adams hit their strides this season. Both have a full season of healthy play under their belts now, so the rust is officially off and their bodies are strong and prepped for battle. Adams and Barrett have shown power at the point, and the backcourt can also be capably led by sophomore Courtney Jaco, who can run the show and rifle in the three like a sharpshooter. She was third on the team in 3-pointers nailed last season as a freshman. Jaco appeared in all 35 USC games, so her experience level is high as she settles in for her sophomore campaign. Fellow sophomore Drew Edelman, meanwhile, packs the post for the Women of Troy. With the departure of Harberts, Edelman has been called upon for increased time in the paint. She made 15 game appearances in 2013-14. Now prepped for battle, redshirt sophomore guard Alexis Lloyd has entered the backcourt fray for her first action as a Trojan this season.
USC made its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since the 2005-06 season after earning the league's automatic bid after winning the Pac-12 Tournament for the first time in school history. USC upset regular-season champion and top-5 ranked Stanford to reach the title game in head coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke's first year at the helm. With a 22-13 overall record and an 11-7 Pac-12 finish Trojans had more overall wins and Pac-12 wins than a year ago. USC posted an upset of then-No. 12 Colorado for their first win over a ranked opponent since 2011 and also had a big upset at No. 23/22 California. Six of the team's seven league losses were by 10 points or less. USC opened the 2013-14 campaign with a 3-0 start, the team's best since 1998-99. Junjor Ariya Crook and senior Cassie Harberts led the team in scoring, averaging 15.8 and 15.4 ppg, respectively, while Harberts grabbed 7.3 rpg. Crook was named Most Oustanding Player of the Pac-12 Tournament while Harberts was named to the Pac-12 All-Tournament Team and to the All-Pac-12 team for the second year in a row. Harberts was also honored by the WBCA as an all-region team member. Also earning All-Pac-12 accolades were Brianna Barrett (Pac-12 All-Defensive Honorable Mention), Courtney Jaco (Pac-12 All-Freshman Honorable Mention) and Alexyz Vaioletama (Pac-12 All-Defensive Honorable Mention).