Despite having a similar start to the game on Friday, the women’s basketball team played a very different game last night against the No. 8 Bruins. UCLA started with a 9-0 run, similar to their 10-0 start on Friday, but the Trojans would not need to call a timeout before scoring this time around. From the first quarter, the team would battle back and forth, keeping the game close for the majority. While the Trojans still came up short tonight by 14 points, USC kept the game competitive and forced the Bruins to step up in order to take home another victory.
“They’re the No. 9 [sic] team in the country for a reason and you look at the program that they have and their coach is close to her sixth season and she’s done a heck of a job building the program,” head coach Mark Trakh said, “I am really happy in that we are competing with everybody and playing hard.”
One of the biggest differences between the two games came from an unexpected place: the USC bench. The Trojans’ starters have almost all been playing full games or close to it. However, when senior forward Kristin Simon went down in the first quarter, it was junior forward Marguerite Effa who would step up and make key plays for the Trojans, including scoring their first points of the game on an and one. While Simon would return to the game, foul trouble would bring Effa back in the second quarter and again in the fourth after Simon fouled out. By the end of the game, she would play 20 minutes and finish 100 percent from the free-throw line and with 7 points.
“She went out there and it was the longest run that she’s gotten and she was huffing and puffing, but man she kept her cool and made free throws, got to the line, got a couple of rebounds,” Trakh said. “[Effa] is athletic. We get to work with her all summer and she’s just a great kid who wants to learn and we got her a little late, we got her in September, but now we will have her all spring and all summer and I think she will be a contributor next year.”
Even with a bigger contribution from the bench, the Trojans still had UCLA’s Monique Billings to face. Billings maintained her team’s 11-point lead into the half with 12 points, just 2 points shy of her total score on Friday night. The Bruins would carry that momentum into the third quarter, keeping the Trojans at bay for most of it. Billings would end the game with yet another double-double, with 18 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. Her performance reflects her athleticism, but doesn’t detract from the play on the part of the Trojans. They finished the game still proud of the effort they showed last night and are certainly not disappointed in how they fared against her and her team these last two games.
“I think that in both games we fought really hard,” said sophomore guard Minyon Moore. “I think it was our effort. That taught me in this game that at any second we could come back and we can work hard. I think that we just got into a little bit of foul trouble. I think we learned a lot whether that is rebounding, whether it’s stopping them in transition, stopping the point guard, I think we learned a lot and it is going to help us move forward.”
Yet, the Bruins certainly did not blow the Trojans out. A strong surge from the Trojans coming with three minutes left in the third quarter would take them into the 4th down by only 5 points. Spearheaded by Moore, the team would get the stops they needed to cut the lead down, but also change the momentum of the game for a time.
“I looked at my point guard to my left here and she competed and she played hard and she ran the team and she had a positive attitude the whole time,” Trakh said. “[Simon] came in and hit a couple three’s and made some shots for us … I’m just really really proud of the kids and we will just keep plugging away, doing what we can do.”
That Trojan intensity would continue into the 4th quarter, where the Trojans would bring it to a 1-point game at 69-68 with four and a half minutes left. However, the Bruins responded with an 10-0 run, harkening back to the intensity they showed both offensively and defensively at the beginning of the game. USC’s dry spell would end with the conversion two free throws by junior guard Aliyah Mazyck with two minutes left of regulation. But they would ultimately be the last points they scored the rest of the game.
“I definitely look at this as a learning experience,” Moore said. “I’m not down and our team’s not down. Sometimes you lose and sometimes you win, so you just have to go out there and try and win the next one. Honestly, I think our team showed effort and you can’t really get mad when we show effort.”