Despite consistent pressure from rival UCLA, the USC women’s basketball team held on to a fourth quarter lead to secure its first Pac-12 victory this season, defeating the Bruins 72-67 at Pauley Pavilion.
The Trojans started the game in dominant fashion, driven by the efforts of senior guard Aliyah Mazyck. One of last year’s finalists for Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Mazyck also displayed her offensive prowess early on in the game. She connected on three 3-pointers in the first quarter alone, including a buzzer-beater to put the Trojans up 19-12 at the end of the frame.
Although Mazyck drained some big shots to extend the Trojans’ lead, both teams struggled with turnovers at the outset of the game, creating fast break opportunities for their opponent. USC had nine turnovers in the first half, while UCLA had eight.
“I think it was jitters at first, playing UCLA,” head coach Mark Trakh said. “Outside of the Oregon game [last weekend], we haven’t turned the ball over much. And I think once we settled down, there was some really great decision-making.”
UCLA came out strong in the second quarter, narrowing the lead to 2 points and remaining within striking distance throughout. At halftime, the Trojans were up 32-30, hardly a comfortable lead given the Bruins’ second quarter momentum.
The Trojans regained a substantial lead in the third quarter, fueled by the offensive firepower of Mazyck and junior guard Minyon Moore. Mazyck led USC with 26 points and five 3-pointers for the game. Moore led the team with 10 rebounds on the night, granting USC with second-chance opportunities on offense while limiting UCLA’s shot attempts on the other end.
USC led by a 9-point margin heading into the fourth quarter but recognized the danger of complacency. In their last meeting with UCLA, the Trojans lost a 13-point lead and the Bruins emerged victorious at the final whistle.
“There’s an emphasis, when we have a run like that, to play it like it’s 0-0,” junior guard Minyon Moore said. “You can’t play like you have a big lead and then start giving it away to the other team.”
Sophomore forward Michaela Onyenwere put up 12 fourth quarter points for the Bruins as they chipped away at the Trojan lead. However, the Women of Troy held strong, sinking 16 of 22 free throw attempts and shooting 58.3% from the field despite the roaring Bruin crowd.
Although UCLA’s presence was felt throughout the game, the team never took a lead. Whenever the Bruins closed the gap, the Trojans sank important shots to defend their lead.
“UCLA is a really good team,” Trakh said. “We worked hard, put a few things together, and we had some big shots. If we play like this, we’re going to be competitive.”
The Trojans were able to minimize the impact of some of the Bruins’ most powerful threats, including Onyenwere, senior guard Kennedy Burke and redshirt senior forward Lajahna Drummer. The latter two combined for just 20 points on 5-of-14 shooting from the field.
“[USC] did a great job of making adjustments from the last time that we played them,” Onyenwere said. “It was a little bit different, a little bit tougher to get touches in the post.”
USC’s post players each played key defensive roles, countering UCLA’s efforts up front. Redshirt sophomore forward Asiah Jones also performed well offensively, shooting 5-6 from the field in just 18 minutes of play.
“Kayla [Overbeck], Asiah [Jones] and Ja’Tavia Tapley really did a heck of a job defensively, they really were good and they gave us everything they could,” Trakh said. “I just thought our kids really worked for 40 minutes, and I couldn’t be prouder of them for coming [to UCLA] and winning this game.”
The Women of Troy will have another chance to add a conference victory when they travel to Arizona and No. 19 Arizona State this weekend.