Junior guard Ariya Crook led the charge as the No. 5 seed Women of Troy (19-12, 11-7 Pac-12) scored a 59-54 win over the Arizona Wildcats (5-25, 1-17) in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament. The success continues for USC after finishing off the regular season with one of its best Pac-12 records ever.
First-year head coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke’s preparation was on display as the Women of Troy executed well, especially defensively.
The win was a collaborative effort, as Crook scored 19 points while senior forward Cassie Harberts and junior forward Alexyz Vaioletama each added six. Harberts and Vaioletama also tag-teamed to rack up the boards, collecting 11 and 12, respectively. The duo came away with eight combined offensive rebounds in the game. The frontcourt mates each nearly doubled their rebounding averages — Harberts has led USC with 7.6 boards per game this season while Vaioletama has added 7.3. Sophomore guard Brianna Barret led the team in assists with four.
The Women of Troy started the game strong, with three different USC players scoring the game’s six points. This spreading of the wealth would be a theme all day. Four of the team’s players would contribute five or more points in the game, though only Crook reached double figures.
USC would hold its lead until just four minutes remained in the half, when Arizona guard Carissa Crutchfield nailed a three-pointer to put the Wildcats ahead 22-21. The game would be close the rest of the way.
Coming from behind after Arizona jumped out to a five-point halftime lead, USC senior forward Kate Oliver led the charge in the final 20 minutes. One of USC’s tallest players at 6-foot-4, the reserve provided a necessary spark by making her first six shots off the bench. Oliver ended the afternoon with 12 points, well above her season average of 1.8.
The Women of Troy kept within a basket of their opponents for a much of the half, but finally turned the tide at the 12-minute mark with Harberts’ jumper that gave them a 39-38 lead.
Still, it was defense that made the difference for USC. The Wildcats couldn’t manage a basket for nearly five minutes in the latter part of the half, staying put at 49 points from the 7:41 mark until just 2:22 was left in the game. To 12th-seeded Arizona’s credit, there was plenty of defense from both teams. The Wildcats kept themselves very much in the game until the final minutes, when a trio of Crook free throws finally put the contest out of reach.
It was a rarely unproductive day on the offensive end for Harberts. The two-time All-Pac-12 forward was held under 10 points against the Wildcats for the second time this season. Harberts, who will go down in USC history as one of the school’s best women’s basketball players, is highly ranked in various categories for her dynamic playing style. She became one of the school’s top-10 all-time leading scorers this season.
Breaking school records is not the only history the Women of Troy are making this season. If the USC wins its next game and fails to make the NCAA Tournament, they will go down in conference history as the only team that has won 20 games in a season and failed to earn a bid to the tournament.
Even if the team fails to make the big dance, the team has certainly shown improvement. This time last year, the Women of Troy were just the No. 7 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament. If the Women of Troy come out of the Pac-12 Tournament as champions, they will be assured a spot in the tournament for the first time since 2006.
The Women of Troy will now advance to the second round of the Pac-12 Tournament, hoping to sweep the Arizona schools. Fourth-seeded Arizona State (22-8, 11-7), the team’s next opponent, will be a difficult obstacle. The Sun Devils defeated USC in overtime earlier this year, the Women of Troy’s only loss in a stretch of eight midseason games. If USC can survive this game, a potential date with No. 4 Stanford awaits. The Cardinal, the tournament’s No. 1 seed, face ninth-seeded Colorado tomorrow after their first-round bye.