The USC women’s basketball team suffered its first loss of the season Monday, falling to UC Santa Barbara 57-46.
The shorthanded Trojans were undefeated before the road contest in Santa Barbara, posting a 3-0 mark following a trio of comfortable wins to open up the 2019-20 campaign.
The Gauchos were 1-2 heading into the matchup, coming off a tight loss to San Jose State.
Injuries and mistakes killed the Trojans, who were without standout graduate transfer guard Stephanie Watts and senior forward Kayla Overbeck due to injuries. They remain without freshman guard Madison Campbell and redshirt sophomore guard Shalexxus Aaron, who have yet to make an appearance this season due to their own respective ailments.
The freshman duo of forward Alissa Pili and guard Endyia Rogers shouldered the offensive load. The two built upon strong starts to their Trojan careers; each posted 10 points, and they combined for 11 rebounds.
However, the Trojans struggled to run offense and keep possession of the ball all night, finishing with 19 turnovers, one lower than their season high mark of 20, and 9 more than UCSB’s total.
The Gauchos made USC pay for its turnover woes, winning the points off turnover battle by a mark of 22-5, a gap of 17 points in a game that was decided by 11.
A strong stretch from the Trojans gave them the lead following a 5-0 personal run from Rogers, but the Gauchos answered back with an 11-0 run to jump out to a lead they did not relinquish.
Stout defense from UCSB limited the Trojans to 3 points for the final five minutes of the first half, and the Gauchos carried a 34-26 advantage into halftime.
The offensive struggles would continue for the Trojans, as a dismal 20-point second half ensured UCSB never had to look back. The Gauchos won the game comfortably despite a late push from head coach Mark Trakh’s unit.
The previously mentioned comeback effort nearly came to fruition as freshman guard Alyson Miura sank a clutch 3-pointer to bring USC within 2 points with four and a half minutes to play.
The Trojans’ late push fell short, however, as the Gauchos pulled away in the late stages to bring the lead to double digits.
Trakh commended his team for its continuous effort despite being so shorthanded.
“I don’t fault the young kids at all — there’s going to be a learning curve, and they’re a talented group that’s working hard,” Trakh said. “We’ve just got to keep moving in the right direction and being very patient with them.”
Trakh also added that a recent slew of injuries have forced the young Trojans into a “baptism by fire,” as they’ve been forced to adjust to the speed and intensity of the collegiate game on the fly.
The Gauchos were also spurred by a dominant performance from freshman forward/center Ila Lane, who had a double-double with 21 points and 12 rebounds, including five offensive rebounds. The win moves UCSB to an overall mark of 2-2 on the year.
Santa Barbara was also led by junior point guard Danae Miller, who filled the stat sheet with six rebounds and four assists to go along with 12 points.
The Trojans shot just 25% from the free throw line, on 2-of-8 shooting. In the Trojans’ first three games, which were all wins, they shot over 90% from the charity stripe in two games and 78% in the other. While not the only issue in USC’s first loss, this would be troubling for the Trojans should the trend continue.
Trakh attributed USC’s free throw woes to inexperience.
“I think that’s youth and understanding; you’ve gotta be ready to play and understanding that teams are going to come after you,” Trakh said. “I think that’s a learning experience.”
USC women’s basketball is back in action against star junior guard Chennedy Carter and No. 6-ranked Texas A&M Saturday at Galen Center at 5:30 p.m.
As for his expectations for Saturday’s big matchup, Trakh said he’s looking forward to seeing how his team responds to the UCSB defeat and competes against some of the top talent in the country.
“I think how we bounce back and what kind of heart and desire we play with will give me a barometer on this team,” Trakh said. “The future is bright — we just have to be patient.”
Saturday will certainly be an early test for Trakh’s young squad, and the Trojans will be eager to make a statement against a premier opponent following their first loss of the season.