The Women of Troy have a tough road trip ahead of them taking on conference rivals No. 19 Cal and No. 4 Stanford. The team is coming off the high of a win against Oregon in which USC (13-6, 6-1) scored a record-setting 109 points.
“I see hard work,” said USC head coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke. “I see the effort and I see the girls starting to believe in each other and the product we put out.”
USC will have to build off that momentum in order to keep up with some of the toughest teams they will face all season. These games will act as a true litmus test as to where the Women of Troy stand in the Pac-12 conference.
“I think playing away and especially at those gyms is always difficult,” said senior forward Cassie Harberts.
How the Women of Troy prepare is a determining factor in the success they will have against these highly-ranked opponents. Cooper-Dyke said that she has conducted up-tempo practices to prepare her team for the games.
“We are trying to mimic the intensity we’re going to see in the game at practice,” Cooper-Dyke said.
Harberts agrees with her coach’s strategy. The All-American candidate knows the direct effect preparation has on the outcome of games of this caliber.
“You have to know your opponent in and out,” Harberts said. “Plays that they run, player tendencies and the atmosphere you’re walking into.”
The Women of Troy will first face the Cal Bears (13-4, 5-1) who have won the past three meetings against USC, including a 78-59 win in the quarterfinal round of the 2013 Pac-12 Tournament.
Forward Reshanda Gray leads the Bears averaging 16.7 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per game. The Women of Troy will have to contain Gray and Wooden Award candidate Brittany Boyd. The Bears’ point guard is a force, coming off a 24-point game in the win against Arizona.
Once the Women of Troy face the Bears, they will have a two-day break before going up against Stanford (17-1, 6-0), who remains undefeated in conference play.
Cooper-Dyke is among familiar company as fellow Hall of Fame head coach Tara VanDerveer has had extreme success with the Cardinal program.
Forward Chiney Ogwumike is the main contributor to that success. Ogwumike leads Stanford in scoring and rebounding, averaging 27.3 points and 12 rebounds per game, respectively.
She is projected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 WNBA draft, meaning the Women of Troy will have to pull out all the stops if they are going to shut her down.
This is where the Women of Troy’s defense-first mindset will surely come in handy. The Women of Troy’s last win against the Cardinal was in 2008. With the recent success Cooper-Dyke and the Women of Troy have had, the Cardinal could very well be on upset alert.
“Winning is a state of mind that we talk about almost every day in practice,” Cooper-Dyke said. “I tell them that it’s a way you should practice, it’s the way that you lace up your shoes before you get on the court and there is a reason why you are out here; now they’re starting to get it.”
The Women of Troy are no strangers to big wins at this point, after beating previously ranked Colorado and a 109-85 win over the Oregon Beavers. Harberts earned Pac-12 Player of the Week honors for her performance, and can also boast about passing up her head coach Cooper-Dyke on the all-time scoring list.
“I think it’s a huge component,” Harberts said of her teammates’ support. “In my position as a post-player I have to rely on my teammates to do anything effectively.”
Harberts says she would not have been able to do it without the support she gets from her teammates on and off the court.
“We’ve had some players like Kate Oliver, Kaneisha Horn and Alexyz Vaioletama come out and knock down some shots,” Cooper-Dyke said. “It’s really opened things up and not allowed teams to double-team Cassie so much.”
Vaioletama has certainly contributed in recent weeks, and has developed as an offensive threat and top rebounder this season.
If the Women of Troy are going to pull off these road games, “everybody needs to show up from the bench players to the starters,” Harberts said.
An upset is within grasp for the Women of Troy if they continue to consistently apply pressure on defense and allow their offense to thrive by getting every player involved.