Women’s basketball has something to prove
The new USC women’s basketball team begins their season this week with two games at Galen Center Tuesday and Saturday. The season’s beginning comes after an offseason of immense turnover for the Trojans. Only five players from last season’s roster remain on the current team. The Trojans will have to adjust to the departure of last year’s leading scorer sophomore forward Jordyn Jenkins, who led the team with 14.8 points average per game last season.
Fortunately, the returners from last year’s squad have the potential to elevate their scoring output and make up for the absence of Jenkins. Sophomore guard /forward Rayah Marshall is one of the Trojans’ key returners. Marshall displayed impressive potential on both ends of the floor last season, her first at USC. She was third on the team in points per game with 11.2, and led the team with 7.7 rebounds per game.
On the defensive end, Marshall was even more of a force. She was the top freshman in the nation with 2.54 blocks per game, and recorded 1.3 steals per game. All in all, her two-way play earned her a spot on the Pac-12 All-Freshman team. But, Marshall is nowhere near satisfied with how last year went after the Trojans finished tenth in the Pac-12 standings.
The Trojans were ranked to finish in a similar spot this season (ninth) in both the preseason coaches poll and Pac-12 media poll, and Marshall is intent on proving that wrong.
“Our preseason ranking is ninth, so that should motivate us to want to go in and just dominate,” Marshall said.
Another returner who will likely play a vital role on the Trojans is senior guard Alyson Miura. Miura led the Trojans with 38 three-pointers made last season. She hopes to continue to factor in as an elite scoring option on the perimeter this season, but also elevate her game to help the Trojans in lots of other ways.
“Whatever they need from me this year, that’s what I’m hoping to do, be a great teammate and help us win however we can,” Miura said.
In addition to the few key returners, the Trojans will rely heavily on talent from the transfer portal to win games this season. The Trojans brought in eight transfers, including four graduate transfers. The abundance of experience has been of great service to the Trojans.
“We definitely have a lot of experience, and with that comes knowledge and wisdom of the game,” Miura said.
One transfer who has already proven to be a key addition is graduate forward Kadi Sissoko, who put on a show in the Trojans’ preseason matchup against Cal State Los Angeles with a 25 point, 10 rebound and a double-double. Her 25 points led the team and showed her potential to be an elite scorer this season. In addition to her on-court excellence, the Trojans hope that Sissoko can have an impact on the team as a mentor as well. Particularly, the Trojans are hoping she can serve as a mentor to Marshall as the young, skilled forward continues to learn and grow.
“I think that Kadi has been a huge help for [Rayah]. That’s really been a great thing for her to be able to learn from Kadi,” Miura said.
Sissoko has had a massive impact on Marshall already.
“Kadi is just a great player to even watch…when you look at her, you’re motivated like, I wanna do the same thing, every aspect of her game, that’s who I want to look like,” Marshall said.
Graduate guard Destiny Littleton is another transfer who stands to have a massive impact on the Trojans’ culture beyond just what she brings on the court. Littleton won a national championship last season at South Carolina. Her championship experience will help guide the Trojans to winning ways as they rebound from a tough season and learn how to win as a unit.
“On the court, probably the one we really lean on is Destiny Littleton…she is the only one who understands what it takes to win a national championship,” said new Associate Head Coach Beth Burns.
Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb further emphasized the importance of winning experience by hiring Burns as the new associate head coach this offseason. Burns has a multitude of experience leading schools like University of Louisville to tournament runs as an assistant, and is the winningest head coach in San Diego State women’s basketball history.
Burns focuses mainly on defense and discipline, which is very different to Gottlieb’s emphasis on offense and maintaining personal relationships with the players.
“I’m just trying to help her with details and structure and how to function day to day, so our culture going forward is a successful and winning one,” Burns said.
Fortunately, the two are on the same page about how to take their team to the top and their styles should serve to complement one another well as they aim to build a well-rounded team.
“When you come in new and you have people from so many different colleges…[some details] sound like pedestrian things but when you’re building a team [they’re] not. You have to have like minded people,” Burns said.
With so much turnover, it’s almost ironic that the Trojans are projected to finish in almost the exact same spot as they finished last season. With such a different team full of winning potential, the Trojans have an opportunity to surprise a lot of people if their new unit works as well as Gottlieb and Burns hope it does.
Marshall is confident the team will turn it around, and doesn’t want students to miss the games at Galen Center this season.
“We’re looking forward to giving them a show,” Marshall said.
The Trojans will hope to pick up some wins and build momentum to start the season as they face off against Idaho State University at 7 p.m. Saturday night.