USC women’s soccer welcomed Utah to Los Angeles on Sunday for a Sweet Sixteen matchup in the NCAA Tournament. Both the No. 7 Women of Troy and the No. 23 Utes were playing their second game in three days, and the Pac-12 rivals fought fatigue and rain to compete for a berth in the Elite Eight. The two sides played to a 1-1 double-overtime draw in October in Salt Lake City, but after a close battle at McAlister Field this weekend, USC emerged victorious, extending its season with a 1-0 win.
But despite causing a few scares in the Utes’ backline, USC was unable to break the deadlock in the first 45 minutes. The second half was more of the same for USC, with Utah continuing to frustrate the Trojan offense, but sophomore forward Leah Pruitt finally pushed the Women of Troy ahead in the 73rd minute. Pruitt had a shot saved off of a low-swinging corner from freshman defender Julia Bingham, but found a way to whip at the ball while on the ground for a spectacular second-effort goal.
“I don’t really know what happened, but I fell on the ground,” Pruitt said. “I just kind of kicked my leg up, and it went in — and I was just really happy.”
No surprises there, as Pruitt’s strike ended up being the difference that sent her team through to the next round. Awaiting USC in the Elite Eight is Auburn, who knocked off SEC champion Florida on Sunday. The upset in Gainesville means the Tigers will fly out to Los Angeles. If the Gators had won, the Women of Troy would have faced a cross-country trip: a challenge head coach Keidane McAlpine was glad not to deal with.
“It makes the organizational piece a lot easier,” McAlpine said. “Preparation is still the same: We need to take care of ourselves and recover from this weekend.”
USC traveled to Auburn earlier this season, beating the Tigers 2-0. Even with the head-to-head edge, however, McAlpine wasn’t about to underestimate his opponents with the season on the line.
“They’re a different team — we’re a different team,” he said. “We’ve got to go back, watch film, and prepare … to grind another one out because they’re really hot right now.”
The Women of Troy will face off against the Tigers at McAlister Field next Friday in the Elite Eight. The final home game of the season will kick off at 1 p.m. If the Women of Troy manage to knock Auburn out, they will book their place in the Final Four, which will take place in San Jose.