The women’s basketball team entered Wednesday’s game at Texas A&M riding a three-game winning streak and a recent victory in the Great Alaska Shootout. But this was a whole new challenge, on the road facing a top 25 team that has consistently made the NCAA tournament. Against their first major conference opponent of the season, USC delivered, narrowly defeating the Aggies 66-62.
“This win gives us great confidence,” said junior forward Kristen Simon, who led the team with 20 points and 8 rebounds. “Each of the younger players stepped up.”
Nothing about Wednesday’s game came easy for the Trojans, who shot 4-of-15 from 3-point range and were out-rebounded by 10 rebounds. After a fairly even first quarter, the Aggies took control in the second frame, heading into half-time with a 34-27 lead.
But the Trojans refused to go away. After the break, consecutive 3s by senior guard Courtney Jaco and freshman guard Valerie Higgins reduced Texas A&M’s lead to 40-37, and then Simon was able to take over the game inside of the paint, scoring 16 second-half points.
“I thought Kristen played a great third and fourth quarter,” head coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke said. “She led us but got in early foul trouble, so I had to sit her. Then she knocked down huge free throws and shots and took it off the dribble and played with her back to the basket. She did everything we needed her to do in order for us to come away with a victory.”
One very notable aspect of Simon’s game was that she went a perfect 6-6 from the free throw line. Before this season, she shot just 61.5 percent on free throws for her career.
“I’m constantly keeping my focus,” Simon said. “Free throws aren’t expected. Their crowd was loud so it just took a little extra focus to knock them down but I was comfortable and confident.
After USC’s comeback in the third quarter, outscoring the Aggies 22-14, the Trojans held a tenuous 49-48 lead entering the fourth. What ensued was a mercurial final frame that featured four ties and four lead changes.
Early on in the fourth, the Aggies marched out to 57-51 lead. But the Women of Troy quickly tied the game back up two minutes later. After exchanging the lead for most of the period, Simon made two clutch free throws with two minutes left to give her team a 60-59 lead. Texas A&M tied the game one final time as Khaalia Hillsman scored a layup from an inbounds play with just 56 seconds left.
Even at 61-61 with under a minute to go, USC needed to respond in a huge way. They looked to senior guard Sadie Edwards, whose jump shot had been reliable all afternoon.
“I was just trying to be aggressive and the shot was there,” Edwards said. “[Cooper-Dyke] trusted me in that moment.”
With 40 seconds left, Simon handed the ball off to Edwards. When the defense cut off her drive, Edwards stepped back nailing a deep two-point jumper to give USC a 63-61 lead. Free throws by Simon and then Edwards effectively iced the game, and the team secured a difficult win at the electric Reed Arena in College Station.
“What a fantastic women’s basketball game tonight in front of an incredible crowd,” Cooper-Dyke said. “They were active all game long so it was fantastic to play in this atmosphere. I just want to give a shout out to Texas A&M for providing this atmosphere.”
The biggest question entering Wednesday’s game was how the team would respond after losing team captain and fifth-year senior Jordan Adams to a devastating ACL injury last week. Edwards pointed out that it would multiple players to fill the void left by the team’s spiritual and on the court leader in Adams.
“We can play with anybody as long as we play together,” Edwards said.