This weekend the Trojans finished off the regular season against Arizona State and Arizona on the road, dropping both games by close margins.
On Friday, the Trojans fought hard in a narrow 69-62 loss to Arizona State. After previously beating them by 15 last month at the Galen Center, this time the Sun Devils were much more proficient on offense thanks to a combined 39 points from Sophie Brunner and Quinn Dornstauder.
ASU led 31-29 at halftime, and USC recaptured the lead on three different occasions. However, a strong 20-point fourth quarter by the home team, in which the Sun Devils scored a vital 10 free throws, effectively put the Trojans away. In a complete reversal from last weekend’s homestand against Washington State and Washington, the team struggled mightily with 3-pointers all evening.
The Trojans went 6-of-21 from long range, with senior 3-point specialist Courtney Jaco having an uncharacteristically cold night. ASU did not need the long ball to down USC; it made just two threes but used its considerable size advantage to pound inside. Junior forward Kristen Simon scored a team-high 14 points with five rebounds, while no other Trojan reached double-digits.
“I think we played them really tough,” Jaco said. “At the end of the day, the team that made the least mistakes was going to go on top, and I think we had a couple of key turnovers and missed box outs on free throws that gave them momentum.”
Unfortunately for Jaco and the Trojans, Friday’s 3-point struggles persisted in Sunday’s 67-62 loss to Arizona in Tucson. This time, Jaco went 2-of-8 and her team shot under 30 percent from deep for the second game in a row.
“A lot of us didn’t have our feet set and our hands ready,” Jaco said. “We weren’t really ready to shoot. We just chucked up a lot of shots, myself included. We’re a team that should make those shots and we know that.”
In the matchup between the Trojans and the bottom-ranked Wildcats, Simon played just 11 minutes before being sidelined with an undisclosed injury in the second quarter. In order to pick up the offensive slack, freshman guard Minyon Moore produced a solid outing. The non-starter played a team-high 32 minutes, scoring 21 points with three assists and three rebounds.
To start off the game, the Wildcats quickly got out to a 7-0 run in just over two minutes. At one point in the first quarter the home team led by as many as 17 points. However, the Trojans were undeterred by their early hole, and fought back steadily, cutting the deficit to five points by halftime.
USC looked determined to complete its comeback in the fourth quarter, finally tying the game at 52 by way of a Jaco 3-pointer, although Arizona would regain the lead soon after. Down 63-58 with 22 seconds left, the Trojans appeared to be out of the game once again. However, Moore came through with a clutch 3-pointer that put her team firmly in striking distance.
With Arizona in possession of the ball and just 15 seconds on the clock, Moore made another game changing play. She stole the ball and drove to the hoop, getting fouled by Arizona guard Malena Washington. Down by two points, making both free throws was essential, especially with such little time on the clock. However, Moore missed the first and made the second. After four consecutive Wildcat free throws, the game was effectively iced.
“For Arizona, we just didn’t start out with the right level of aggression,” said Jaco. “We didn’t play with any sense of urgency until it was too late.”
For the season, USC finishes at 14-15 with a 5-13 conference record. They end up in a tie for last place in the Pac-12 with Arizona, who finished with an identical record, along with Colorado and Utah. The Trojans begin Pac-12 Tournament play this Thursday as the No. 9 seed against No. 8 California, who beat USC 63-56 earlier this month. The conference championship tournament will be played at the Key Arena in Seattle.
“I feel really good [about the Pac-12 Tournament] actually,” Jaco said. “We beat the No. 1 team in the conference and we beat the last team too. There’s a lot of parity within the league and I think more than any other year, any team can win.”