Women of Troy, desperate for win, head out to desert

Stuck in the middle of a season-worst eight-game losing streak, the USC women’s basketball team is in dire need of a win as it heads to the desert to face the Arizona schools this weekend to wrap up Pac-12 regular season play.

They face Arizona on Friday, March 1, before taking on Arizona State on Sunday, March 3.

It has been a very tough stretch for the Women of Troy (8-19, 5-11 Pac-12), who have dropped 11 out of their last 12 games and are coming off   back-to-back defeats to rival UCLA. The Bruins bested USC first on Feb. 19 at the Galen Center, 68-54, and then on Feb. 24 at Pauley Pavilion, 63-58.

In their first meeting against UCLA, the Trojans shot only 28 percent, compared to the Bruins’ 43 percent, and trailed by as many as 27 points before cutting the deficit to 14, ultimately losing the game. Junior forward Cassie Harberts led the team in scoring with 17 points, while sophomore guard Kiki Aloufaituli had a career-high 11 points.

After suffering the lopsided defeat at home, USC head coach Michael Cooper made the necessary adjustments, as the Women of Troy were much more competitive in the second meeting. But the team was undone again by its own hand, plagued by 17 first-half turnovers and 22 total for the game. Harberts served up her 14th double-double of the season with a game-high 22 points and 11 rebounds, but the comeback once again fell short.

With the loss, the team ended up winless in the month of February. On the bright side, nearly every game was competitive, as five of their eight losses have come by single digits; four of those losses have come by five points or fewer. In Pac-12 play, USC is 3-4 in games that are decided by five or fewer points, a figure that suggests the team is not far off from turning a corner.

The grueling nature of the recent schedule has not helped USC in recent weeks. But coming off four games against top-20 ranked teams, the Women of Troy are now able to catch their breath as they take on two unranked teams in Arizona and Arizona State.

“Every game is going to be a close, tough game regardless of whether the team is ranked or unranked,” said senior forward Christina Marinacci, who has missed the majority of the regular season with a knee injury. “Regardless of who we are playing, these are going to be two huge games for us.”

The Arizona game comes at a good time for the Trojans, as Arizona was the last team they beat way back on Jan. 27 at the Galen Center by a score of 74-57. USC looks to complete their second straight season sweep against the Wildcats after defeating them    72-67 in Tucson and 78-62 at the Galen Center last year.

Arizona (12-15, 4-12) is coming off two tough losses to rival Arizona State last week, as they lost 81-77 in double overtime in their first meeting and 59-58 in their second game. The team is led by senior guard Davellyn White, who is averaging 16.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.

Looking ahead to Sunday’s regular- season finale, the Women of Troy will look to improve from the last time they played the Sun Devils.  In its first meeting of the year on Jan. 25, USC suffered a tough 60-53 loss to ASU after holding a 36-20 halftime lead.

“We will be lucky to get a lead on the road and we can’t afford to blow any big leads this time around,” Harberts said.

The Sun Devils’ (13-15, 5-11) top scorer is senior forward Janae Fulcher, who is averaging 11 points per game, while junior forward Joy Burke leads the team in rebounds, averaging 6.2  points per game.

Both of these games are important for the Women of Troy as they wrap up Pac-12 regular-season play and get ready for the Pac-12 conference tournament in Seattle, Wash., which will take place from March 7-10. USC currently sits at ninth place in the conference standings.

“These next two games are going to be huge for us,” Harberts said. “Hopefully we will get these next two wins and take that momentum into the Pac-12 tournament.”

Friday’s game at Arizona is scheduled to start at 7 p.m., while Sunday’s game against ASU is set to tip off at noon. Both games can be watched online, as they win be streamed live at Pac-12.com.