After a successful trip up north where the women’s basketball team secured two wins against Washington and Washington State, the Trojans return home to play crosstown nemesis UCLA twice.
The team will play the first matchup at Pauley Pavilion on Friday before returning home for a second matchup at Galen Center next Monday. The Trojans now stand at 15-6 with a 5-5 Pac-12 conference record after their sweep in Washington.
UCLA is ranked No. 9 in the most recent rankings and has a 17-4 record with an 8-2 conference record. Since losing against Oregon on Jan. 7, they have won their previous six games against the likes of Utah, Colorado, Stanford, California, Washington and Washington State. UCLA boasts an impressive record of 8-2 at Pauley Pavilion and an equally impressive 7-2 on the road.
“It’s a rivalry,” senior forward Kristen Simon said of the USC-UCLA rivalry. “A lot of the people on UCLA I grew up with, I played [in] high school with. So it’s a fun game, but it’s just another game for us. Just the intensity of [the rivalry], the crowd’s into it, it’s fun. It’s a fun game because the intensity is just a little bit higher since it’s a rivalry.”
UCLA is led by a trio of guards Jordin Canada and Kennedy Burke and forward Monique Billings. Canada is the team’s leading scorer at 15.6 points per game but she also contributes in other areas: 3.7 rebounds, 6.3 assists and an intimidating 3.3 steals per game. Billings averages 14.6 points to go along with 9.6 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 1.6 blocks, while Burke brings a versatile defensive game averaging two steals and one block coupled with a modest 10.8 scoring average.
UCLA also sports a deep and well-balanced team capable of shouldering the load alongside their leading scorers. Guards Japreece Dean and Kelli Hayes are threatening shooters with a shooting average of 37.1 percent and a 35.7 percent from deep respectively; both of their 3-point percentages climb to an identical 38.2 percent against conference opponents. Forwards Lajahna Drummer and Michaela Onyenwere are also bench contributors who can score. Drummer also averages 6.8 rebounds per game.
“They’re just so athletic, they play so hard and Cori Close does a great job,” head coach Mark Trakh said. “They play together, they get up and down the court, their transition is really good. [Canada] is one of the top players in the country and [Billings] is one of the top post in the country. They’re talented and loaded and they play hard, so it’s going to be a challenge, but it’s going to be fun going up against one of the top teams in the country.”
USC will have its hands full against a loaded UCLA squad that is capable of scoring a lot and playing great defense. One of the keys to watch for in these two matchups will be rebounding, as UCLA’s starting frontcourt of Billings and Drummer averages a combined 16.4 rebounds. USC will look for a total team effort on the glass spearheaded by Simon, who grabbed a total of 27 rebounds against the Washington teams. Other keys will be defense and turnovers. Both USC and UCLA excel on the defensive end of the floor in disrupting offensive flow and limiting the number of buckets scored, and capitalizing on turnovers could be key to taking the game.
“For us, it’s our intensity, bringing our intensity, bringing our defense, everything starts for us on defense, everything that we do good is on defense,” Simon said. “So [we have to] make sure we bring our defensive intensity there.”
Trahk knows his team will need to bring some hustle in order to beat UCLA.
“We gotta get back in transition,” coach Trakh said. “We gotta limit their offensive rebounding and we gotta limit turnovers.Those are the three most important things.”
An intriguing matchup to note between these two teams will be between USC’s sophomore guard Minyon Moore and Canada — both are electrifying lead guards with similar playing styles and a knack for stealing the ball. Moore relies on her quickness and speed to exploit openings in defense and attack if the space opens up, but is a willing passer and gets her teammates involved often. Canada also has great speed, loves attacking the paint with craftiness and finesse and is an adept passer who sets up teammates with great precision.
“I just think [Moore and Canada] are athletic, they both defend, they both get up and down the floor, they both run their teams,” Trakh said. “So it will be an interesting matchup for sure.”
The Trojans will visit Pauley Pavilion Friday at 8 p.m. before hosting the Bruins Monday at 6 p.m. Both games can be watched live on Pac-12 Network.
“It’s going to be a great rivalry,” Trakh said. “It’s for bragging rights for a year so we’re going to be going at each other in the game. It’s going to be a lot of fun!”