2014-15 USC Women's Basketball Season Outlook|
Nov. 3, 2014
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 enter the coming 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.
Cooper-Dyke -- who has seen it all as a Hall of Famer, a WNBA champion, an Olympian and now a coach with a knack for turning programs around -- is approaching the 2014-15 season at Troy as a chance for her team to craft a new identity and new leaders.
"We've lost two big scorers, it's true, but we treat it much like we would if there was an injury. We move on and need to find leadership from our returning players. We're a work in progress this year more than others, but it really is an opportunity for other people to step up. The door is open for other players to be a big part of the success we have this season."
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.
Barrett, Vaioletama and 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. She fully expects 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.
"Everyone is going to have an opportunity to make their mark," Cooper-Dyke said." As a Trojan it's about fighting on when you have adversity and learning how to confront adversity."
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 will most certainly be called upon for increased time in the paint. She and Destinie Gibbs, a guard who enters her junior season, each made 15 game appearances in 2013-14. Now prepped for battle, redshirt sophomore guard Alexis Lloyd enters the backcourt fray for her action as a Trojan this season.
USC's freshman class is a unique blend. Guards Chyanne Butler and McKenzie Calvert will be called upon to get up to speed fast for the Trojan backcourt, while posts Amy Okonkwo and Kristen Simon are tabbed to fit the bill down low.
"I feel the chemistry is there," Cooper-Dyke said. "I feel like we have the work ethic. We are still a ways off. We are young, we have some players that need to take on some more responsibility, both scoring and defensively, and really leadership positions. And so, for me it's an opportunity, an opportunity for someone else to step up. It's a window that has opened for someone else to step out into a space for them to do their thing, to be a star. "
The freshman crew aren't the only newcomers to the program this season, though. Cooper-Dyke has welcomed in new associate head coach Beth Burns and assistant coach Taja Edwards to join her and assistant Jualeah Woods on the coaching staff for 2014-15.
"I want USC to be a part of the upper levels of Pac-12," Cooper-Dyke said. "I want our team to experience the NCAA tournament every year. That's something we should strive for. That should be the mentality and the standard. I love winning, and I have fun with my kids, we balance being very intense on court with being human and having an open door policy off court."