Women of Troy hang on to defeat Cougars 64-62

The USC women’s basketball team edged past Washington State 64-62 Sunday night at the Galen Center to improve to 18-8 overall and 6-6 in Pac-12 Conference play. 

With 19.2 seconds on the clock, junior Courtney Jaco spun the ball in her hands, toeing the free throw line. Leading Washington State by only three points, she had the chance to knock down her 18th point of the night to cement a Trojans win. Jaco spun the ball one more time, then let the shot fly.

It sank with a resounding swish, drowned out by an emphatic cheer from the crowd and the bench. Washington State drove back for a layup, but time had run out. Jaco’s clutch free throw shooting gave the Trojans a redemptive victory at the end of a split weekend against two Washington teams. After falling to Washington 61-53 on Friday, the team found success in outside shooting and dominant post play against Washington State, a team they lost to earlier in the season.

“We recognized that we were a different team back then [four weeks ago] and we just didn’t play well,” head coach Cynthia Cooper Dyke said. “We were disappointed in that. Our number one goal today was to come out and show that that wasn’t us.”

Despite a late surge — including a three-pointer from forward Temi Fagbenle — to put USC within four points, the Trojans struggled to keep up offensively against Washington to start their weekend. The team battled back from deficits several time, but lacked the firepower to take over the lead.

While they weren’t able to get the offensive edge, aspects of the USC offense thrived against Washington. The team drained eight 3-pointers on the night, and Simon snatched a career-high 21 rebounds. But a combination of 16 turnovers and early foul trouble slowed the team’s offense too much to keep up with the high-powered Washington offense, led with 22 points from national scoring leader Kelsey Plum.

With 26 points and 13 rebounds, Fagbenle notched her ninth double-double of the season, cementing the team in the post. Simon contributed an added six points, and put in necessary effort in the post to transition to a faster-paced style of defense against a guard-heavy Washington State team.

“It came down to putting in the effort necessary, and not quitting,” Simon said. “What we’d drilled in practice, we had to transfer that and we did a good job just grinding it out to the end.”

The second half was a back-and-forth battle for offensive momentum. The Trojans quickly stretched to a 10-point lead, but lost momentum slowly throughout the half as the Cougars chipped away. Washington State took the lead for several seconds late in the fourth quarter, but a 3-pointer from Jaco put the Trojans back on top.

From there, Simon and Fagbenle erupted down low, but back-to-back field goals and a steal put the Cougars back within two points with less than 20 seconds left. A foul put Jaco on the line, where she drained both shots to seal the USC victory 64-62.

“This season has been hard for me as far as my shooting goes,” Jaco said. “It felt good. It felt really good, in fact. We need to build on this because we can compete with anyone in our conference.”

The weekend was also a victory for the team’s push to support the Kay Yow Foundation, which raises money for breast cancer research. The topic is close to home for Cooper-Dyke, who was a player on Yow’s gold-medal Olympic team and whose mother passed away from breast cancer. Over the weekend, the organization raised over $1500 in funds.

“I told the girls to play for something more than themselves this weekend,” Cooper-Dyke said. “It has touched my life in many ways, and that’s why I wanted to encourage everyone to get out for the fight. That’s what this is — it’s a fight. We wanted to put that message out there that the battle isn’t over yet.”