Finishing off their season with an overall record of 14-15 and 5-13 in conference play, the No. 9 seeded women’s basketball team will head to the KeyArena in Seattle to take on No. 8 seed Cal in its first game of the Pac-12 Tournament on Thursday.
“We’re excited,” head coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke said. “Dropped a couple of tough games against the Arizonas, but we are excited for the tournament and to kind of start at 0-0 and come in with some focus and intensity and take it one game at a time.”
As the second time this year that the Trojans will face the Bears, this game is a chance not only to advance in the tournament, but also for redemption after a tough loss.
In their last meeting, junior forward Kristen Simon was the only Trojan to score in double digits compared to the four players for Cal.
“We know that Cal is well-coached and athletic, so a very talented team,” Cooper-Dyke said. “We know Anigwe, we know their 3-point shooting, their transition flow. We have got to rebound the ball, we have got to make sure we aren’t starting their fast breaks with our turnovers and we just have to finish games better.”
Since that game though, the Trojans have come a long way. Freshman guard Minyon Moore, who was just named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team, started off the season strong and has continued to improve. She has become the team leader in steals, assists and free throws and is second in rebounding and scoring behind Simon.
Moore’s aggressive style of play and average of 11.8 points per game has earned her recognition as one of the top 12 players to watch for this tournament according to Pac-12 analysts. She may never have been in the tournament before, but her contributions will be key to shutting down Cal’s dominant scorers, converting their turnovers into points and helping USC move forward in the tournament.
Aided by contributions from Moore, Simon will have to contain Cal’s Kristine Anigwe while also playing around her tough defense on the other end of the court. It will be no easy feat, as Anigwe has 14 double-doubles this season, but Simon proved in their last meeting that she can outscore her and keep up with her in rebounding.
With Simon holding down the key, the guard play will be allowed more freedom because Cal will need to account for both positions’ scoring abilities and will be forced to stretch the floor on defense.
For Simon and senior guard Courtney Jaco, this is not their first time in the tournament. In fact, Jaco was one of the few members of the current team that was part of USC’s championship victory in 2014 in their upset over Oregon State in the final.
It was a year when the Trojans were the last team picked to win, but they brought home the conference trophy despite their low seeding.
Last year, with a similar seeding, USC lost to Oregon State in the quarterfinals in a game many viewed as the alternate version of the previous year’s final. This year, if the Trojans can get past Cal, they will take on Oregon State yet again.
USC will face off against Cal on Thursday at 11:30 a.m. at the KeyArena in Seattle.