A comeback bid by the USC women’s basketball team fell short Saturday against UCLA in the semifinals of the Pac-10 tournament. USC (19-12, 11-7) bowed out of the tournament with a 59-53 loss to its crosstown rival.
Two free throws by junior center Kari LaPlante with six minutes remaining helped the Women of Troy grab their first lead since the opening minutes at 50-49. USC would push the lead to 53-51 moments later on a 3-pointer by senior guard Heather Oliver before UCLA closed the game on an 8-0 run.
“Tough losses like this hurt, but they only make you a better team, and we’ve learned from some things we didn’t do tonight to make us a better team in the future,” USC coach Michael Cooper said.
USC had an opportunity to win late in the game but gave up an offensive rebound on a missed free throw. UCLA forward Markel Walker grabbed her own missed shot with 30 seconds left and got the ball to teammate Doreena Campbell, who extended the lead to 57-53 with a pair of free throws.
USC sophomore guard Ashley Corral missed a 3-pointer on the next possession.
The Women of Troy battled all the way back from a double-digit deficit but were unable to overcome an ice-cold shooting start. USC made just three of 16 3-pointers and shot 28 percent overall in the first half.
“We’ve [been] shooting like that all year,” Cooper said. “I wasn’t concerned because it was early and usually we’re pretty good in the second half.”
The Women of Troy trailed 30-24 at halftime but stormed back in the first four minutes of the second half to tie the game up at 34. From there the lead seesawed until the final minute.
After the game, Corral expressed disappointment at the loss.
“They didn’t really do much to make us lose,” Corral said. “It was just things we had control over such as hitting open shots, making layups, boxing out.”
Corral led USC with 15 points on five 3-pointers. Senior forward Aarika Hughes added 12 points and six rebounds for the Women of Troy.
In their opening game against Oregon, the Women of Troy rode a 9-0 run in the second half to an 80-76 victory.
Sophomore guard Briana Gilbreath, who earned Pac-10 Co-Defender of the Year honors last week, keyed the run with seven points and a huge blocked shot. USC trailed 64-59 before going on the run.
Oregon drew within one at 72-71 on a pair of free throws by guard Micaela Cocks before USC senior guard Hailey Dunham came up with a clutch play.
Dunham tracked down a missed free throw by Hughes and dived out of bounds to save the ball, knocking over two computer monitors in the process. The extra possession ended in a 3-pointer at the shot clock buzzer by Corral.
Redshirt junior guard Jacki Gemelos made four pressure-packed free throws after that to seal the win for USC.
Gilbreath led USC with 19 points and seven rebounds. LaPlante knocked down her first seven shots en route to 15 points and six rebounds. Corral added 16 points and six rebounds.
Following their semifinal exit from the Pac-10 tournament, the Women of Troy waited for last week’s selection Monday to see whether they had made the NCAA tournament.
The Women of Troy were not selected to the 64-team tournament and declined an invitation to the Women’s National Invitational Tournament early last week, ending USC’s season.