As the USC women’s basketball team prepares to host rival UCLA on Sunday, one statistic has the team’s attention.
The winner will take over sole possession of third place in the Pac-10 Conference.
“This is more than just a rivalry game,” sophomore guard Ashley Corral said. “Whoever wins this game moves ahead of the other [in the conference standings].”
That doesn’t mean the Women of Troy (9-6, 3-1) are discounting the importance of beating their crosstown rival. Even newcomers like first-year coach Michael Cooper are well aware of how heated the rivalry can be.
“We almost don’t need to win another game if we beat UCLA,” Cooper quipped. “It’s going to be a big game.”
Corral, a Washington native, said she learned what the rivalry truly meant once she stepped foot on campus.
“As soon as you get to USC you realize the rivalry,” Corral said. “I’ve never been a Bruins fans. I don’t ever plan on being one.”
Beating UCLA will be no easy task for the Women of Troy. UCLA (10-5, 3-1) took No. 2 Stanford to the wire last weekend before losing 65-61. By comparison, USC lost to the Cardinal earlier this season by 20 points.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” senior guard Heather Oliver said. “They came really close to Stanford last weekend.”
Cooper said one of his challenges over the past week has been keeping his team on an even keel.
“We don’t want to get too hyped up for [the game],” he said. “But we also don’t want to be too low.”
Another challenge for the Women of Troy will be the physicality of UCLA. Cooper said that the Bruins, while not a particularly tall team, have a lot of girth down low. Still, he expects his players to hold their own in the paint.
“We’ve been undersized against everyone and we’ve overcome that all season long,” he said.
One area where USC should have an advantage is at the end of the game. If the score is close late, count on the Women of Troy coming out on top. USC has won all three of its conference games this season by four points or less.
“We’re starting to realize what it takes to win games,” Oliver said. “We learned a lot from last year when we lost a lot of close games. Now we’re relaxed.”
The Women of Troy will need to bottle up some of that experience for what should be a tightly contested game.
Tip off is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.