The Women of Troy entered the Pac-12 Tournament with a six-game win streak, a first round bye, and high hopes that just two more wins could propel them into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006.
Instead, USC’s dreams of entering the Big Dance ended once again Thursday, as the No. 11 seed Washington State Cougars (13-19) pulled off a convincing upset over the No. 2 seed USC (18-12) 69-55 in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.
Offensive woes debilitated USC’s chances at capitalizing on six days of rest, as the Women of Troy shot 24.2 percent before the Galen Center crowd and gave up 22 points off their 17 turnovers in possibly their last game of the season.
USC managed to out-rebound Washington State 45 to 33 and consequently had nine more shots, but the Cougars drained 44.6 percent of their shots and converted on 10 of 20 of their 3-pointers to dispel any run USC had to offer.
USC senior guard Briana Gilbreath notched her 14th career double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds, but struggles at the free throw line hurt her and team’s chances at a comeback.
Sophomore forward Cassie Harberts, who averages 12.1 points a game for the Women of Troy, shot 1-for-12 to finish with seven points and 12 rebounds.
USC managed to cut the deficit to five with 14:34 remaining, but that would be the closest that USC could get, as the Cougars then pumped out a 9-0 run to balloon the lead to 14.
The Women of Troy last saw a single-digit deficit after Gilbreath scored seven consecutive points for USC to come within eight points with 9:17 remaining.
The Cougars responded with a 9-2 run to hold a 15-point advantage and maintained a double-digit lead for the rest of the game, despite 10 second-half points from USC junior forward Christina Marinacci, who finished with 13.
“We brought the energy in the second half,” Gilbreath said. “We might not have scored the way we wanted to score, but we matched their energy a lot better in the second half than the first.”
Although the Cougars do not have a single player averaging double digits, they thrived off the offensive trio of guards April Cook, Jazmine Perkins and Rosie Tarnowski, who combined for 38 points on 11-for-20 shooting.
It was only the Cougars’ second win in the conference tournament in the program’s history, with the first being their win against No. 6 Oregon State in the first round of the tournament.
USC had swept the season series against Washington State, most recently defeating the Cougars in Pullman 65-54 on Saturday to cap the regular season.
In that game, USC senior guard Ashley Corral led the team with her third career double-double with 25 points and 10 rebounds.
This time around, the leading 3-point shooter in USC history could only muster five points off one trey, along with four rebounds and three assists in the loss.
The Women of Troy will fail to reach the NCAA Tournament for the fifth straight year and instead look for a potential at-large berth to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
“We’re going to leave it up to the committee and hope that we’ve done some things good enough to let ourselves in, but it’s a long shot,” USC coach Michael Cooper said.
The WNIT committee will announce the 64-team field on Monday, with the tournament beginning Friday, March 16. Last season, USC won five consecutive games to reach the WNIT title game before losing 68-76 to Toledo.
“This is just a hard moment to talk about because our dreams and visions were much further than this, but it ends today,” Cooper said. “But I am very proud of these young ladies and the effort that they gave us today.”