Women’s basketball program on the rise

Unlike USC’s men’s basketball team, which earned its first conference win at home on Wednesday night against Cal, the Women of Troy have been rolling in Pac-12 conference play. With a 6-1 conference record contributing to a 13-6 overall mark, the Women of Troy currently stand one spot away from first-place Stanford, who ranks No. 4 in the nation at 17-1 overall.

This weekend, the Women of Troy will be put to the test as they travel north to the Bay Area to take on the No. 4 Cardinal and No. 19 Golden Bears. This Pac-12 road trip should prove to be the team’s toughest pair of games all season.

Heading into the season, though, first-year head coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke could not have envisioned a better opportunity to put her alma mater back on the national radar. She sought to change the program’s dynamic into a winning one and her plan   appears to be going well so far.

Winning eight out of their last nine games, with their only loss coming in overtime to Arizona State, the Women of Troy are well on their way to returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006 under Cooper-Dyke. Athletic Director Pat Haden initially hired Cooper-Dyke believing that she could be the one to put the program through a time machine and return it to the glory days of 1983-84 when Cooper-Dyke led the Women of Troy to back-to-back national championships.

This past week, the team received votes in the national polls, and a win against either powerhouse on the road could make a statement to the rest of the Pac-12 — and the country at large — that USC women’s basketball is a force to be reckoned with. Right now the Women of Troy, not the men’s team, are the basketball team to watch on the USC campus.

Though the men’s team is struggling to stay competitive in the tough Pac-12 under first-year head coach Andy Enfield, the Women of Troy are making a much faster transition under their new coaching staff and system.

In  major collegiate athletics  the retention of players is unpredictable and the constant revolving door of talent can make it daunting to rebuild a team. USC has had the talent to be successful for the past few years. Injury problems, however, have prevented the Women of Troy from exercising their full potential.

This year’s roster actually doesn’t look much different than last year’s with the exception of a few freshmen and transfers. The Women of Troy returned 11 players, only losing senior Christina Marinacci to graduation.

Nine of those 11 players started at least seven games during the 2012-2013 campaign. Ninety-one percent of USC’s scoring and 88 percent of the rebounding was produced by those 11 returning players.

Adding to all of this is the return of one of the program’s all-time top players in senior forward Cassie Harberts, who recently surpassed her new coach as USC’s No. 10 all-time leading scorer.

To go with the talent that they brought back, an integral part of the Women of Troy’s success has been that they now have the right coach to pair with that talent.

Former head coach Michael Cooper departed last spring after his first losing season in four years. Cooper was a great WNBA coach for the Sparks, but not even he was able to take the program back to its first NCAA tournament in seven years. Haden proceeded to the coaching carousel and he came away with the right woman for the job.

Unlike the controversial hiring of new head football coach Steve Sarkisian, which many fans would call a base hit, Haden hit a home run with his decision to bring back Cooper-Dyke, who is familiar with the winning tradition of the women’s basketball program at USC. This allows her to relate with her players and bring a unique set of experiences, which is important in women’s college basketball, especially when it comes to recruiting.

To that effect, Cooper-Dyke has already landed four top-notch recruits prior to National Signing Day — three of those players are ranked in espnW HoopGurlz’ Top 100.

By corralling in two five-star recruits led by the nation’s No. 16-ranked recruit in point guard McKenzie Calvert from Schertz, Tex., USC has plunged its way into having the fifteenth-best 2014 recruiting class thus far, according to espnW. They are one of four Pac-12 teams in the espnW top 20 for recruiting.

Cooper-Dyke has developed a reputation for quickly resurrecting college basketball programs. The former Trojan coached at three different programs in seven years before returning to coach at USC, and received three league-wide coach of the year honors in the process. Her 13 wins this season have already surpassed last year’s 11 total wins — with another 11 games remaining on the season.

When Haden brought in men’s coach Andy Enfield on April 1 of last year, he did so in order to instill the sort of basketball culture that our campus seems to be lacking. Cooper-Dyke might  have been hired 10 days later, but she and her team have not wasted any time in bringing back winning basketball to USC.

The USC women’s basketball team is already making a strong case for an NCAA tournament berth this season and racking up highly touted recruits.

The future looks promising for the Women of Troy and their first-year head coach.


Darian’s column “Dishin’ Darian” runs every other Friday. To comment on this story, visit dailytrojan.com, or email Darian at dnourian@usc.edu