The USC women’s basketball team will play host to Utah and Colorado at Galen Center this weekend. The Trojans currently sit at 14-13 on the season and hope to improve their chances of making the NCAA Tournament with a pair of wins over the two teams.
In Friday’s matchup against the Utes, USC will face a familiar foe. The Trojans’ last matchup with the Utes ended in heartbreaking fashion for USC: The Trojans hung with Utah despite a seemingly unstoppable barrage of 3-pointers before ultimately falling 67-65 at the hands of a last second basket.
The Utes were led by an excellent performance from redshirt senior wing Daneesha Provo, who had 17 points to go with three buckets from behind the arc. Freshman guard Kemery Martín also chipped in 12 points for the Utes.
Both teams shot the ball exceptionally well, combining for 20 3-pointers over the course of the afternoon.
USC was led by a career shooting performance from sophomore guard Desiree Caldwell, who finished the game with 14 points after sinking four 3-pointers on just seven attempts.
Caldwell believes containing Utah’s shooters will be key to more success on the defensive end this time around.
“Urgency to the shooters is what our coach has been preaching,” Caldwell said. “Everybody’s a shooter on both Colorado and Utah, so just getting to them with a lot of urgency and try to make them alter their shot.”
Standout freshman forward Alissa Pili heads into the game averaging a team-high 15.6 points and eight rebounds per game on the season. Pili recently enjoyed a career-high 32-point scoring performance during a 66-60 win in Pullman, Wash., against Washington State.
Pili’s strong scoring performance against the Cougars was complemented by 12 rebounds, good for her 10th double-double of the season.
Over the last 12 games, Pili has averaged a stellar 19.7 points per game. Pili is the Pac-12 freshman leader in rebounds and scoring and looked more and more like a rising star each time out for the Cardinal and Gold.
In her first career meeting with the Utes in January, Pili led the Trojans with 16 points along with eight rebounds. In that same game, five Trojans scored in double digits — the first time that had happened all season.
Associate head coach Aarika Hughes said she and head coach Mark Trakh expect everyone who plays to be ready to share the burden of the scoring load given the extra attention they expect Pili to receive.
“Alissa Pili is driving us right now,” Hughes said. “She is our scoring force. We want to give her just as many looks every game, but everyone needs to be ready and willing to knock down shots and have that confidence because the coaching staff believes that they can do that as well.”
Utah travels to Galen Center with a bit of momentum after snapping a three-game losing streak with a home victory against Arizona State Sunday. The Utes currently sit just under the Trojans in the Pac-12 with an overall record of 13-14, but the teams share conference records of 6-10.
Whether Utah attempts to implement the same high-tempo strategy it used against ASU or if it tries to slow the game down with halfcourt sets, USC expects to be prepared for whatever the Utes bring.
“We definitely are fine with playing at a fast pace,” Caldwell said. “But if we do get a half court situation, we know that we can execute our offense. So either way, we’re ready to battle.”
Hughes echoed Caldwell’s sentiment.
“Clearly, the goal is to get out and run and slow the other team down,” Hughes said. “Utah is an offensively focused team. So slowing them down in transition and matching up and slowing the game down on the defensive end is crucial.”
USC will face Utah at Galen Center Friday afternoon and Colorado at noon Sunday. Friday’s tip-off is at 6 p.m. Sunday’s tip-off is at 12 p.m.