No. 25 USC holds on to beat Oregon State
The Trojans improved to 19-6 Sunday afternoon following a 60-56 overtime win against the Oregon State Beavers. After a comeback win against Oregon Friday, USC grinded out another to beat the Beaver team that is now on a six-game losing streak.
USC jumped out to an early lead in the first quarter, leading 15-5 with 2:15 minutes left in the quarter. Sophomore forward Rayah Marshall got off to a fast start, leading the Trojans with 5 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks in the first quarter. But after a pair of baskets by Oregon State, the Trojans lead shrunk to five at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, the Beavers attempted to close the gap, but every time they made a run, USC responded. Graduate student guard Destiny Littleton was fouled on a 3-pointer in the closing seconds of the quarter, allowing USC to stretch their lead to 31-24 at halftime. Marshall continued to dominate the paint, cashing a double-double to go along with 3 blocks at halftime.
But while it seemed that USC had the game in control, shooting woes allowed Oregon State to get back into the game. USC shot 25% compared to Oregon State’s 50% in the third quarter.
“We really couldn’t hit the broad-side of the barn,” said Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb post-game.
Compounding their offensive struggles, Marshall left the game late in the third quarter with a torso injury and did not return. In Marshall’s place was sophomore center Clarice Akunwafo, who filled the gap in the post against the larger Beaver centers. USC was able to hang on to a narrow 3-point lead going into the fourth quarter, thanks in part to second-chance opportunities created by a number of timely offensive boards.
However, USC’s lead did not last long as the Beavers went on a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter, creating a 51-47 lead with 4:00 to go. USC’s offense continued to flounder until graduate student Okako Adika hit a huge and-one 3-pointer with 2:16 left to tie the game at 53.
After a layup by Littleton down the stretch that tied the game at 55, the Trojans found themselves in their second overtime in three games.
Neither team could pull away in overtime, as the score remained close throughout the five minutes. With 35 seconds left and the Trojans leading by 1, Akunwafo grabbed USC’s 16th offensive rebound of the night and put it back up to give the Trojans a 3-point lead. The Beavers then turned it over the next possession and USC hung on for the win.
Akunwafo has not seen consistent playing time this year, but she has stayed ready regardless. On Sunday, she played an integral role for the Trojans on both ends of the floor.
“I’m just blessed to have coaches and players who believe in me and are able to trust me on the court,” Akunwafo said. “My coaches are on my side, my players are on my side.”
Gottlieb had high praise for the sophomore center after the game.
“[Akunwafo] did a great job especially, that last offensive rebound was huge … She knows all the sets, she stays ready, she’s incredibly coachable,” Gottlieb said. “I thought she did a really good job defensively, battling [in the paint] against a terrific post player for Oregon State.”
USC’s defense and rebounding stood out. USC forced contested shot after contested shot, resulting in Oregon State shooting 38.0% from the field and coughing up the ball 14 times. In addition, the Trojans created 15 second-chance points off offensive rebounds compared to Oregon State’s 3.
“We really emphasize boxing out,” said Gottlieb when asked about the team’s approach to rebounding. “But also we’ve been more aggressive with the offensive boards, and I think the 16 offensive boards … were huge … causing duress for [Oregon State] on the other end [of the court].”
USC did not shoot the ball well Sunday, only hitting 2-17 from three and shooting 34.0% overall from the field. But it did not matter, as their rebounding and defense carried them past Oregon State for their 19th win as they moved to 9-5 in Pac-12 play.
This win against the Beavers, followed by Friday’s win against Oregon, propelled USC into the AP top 25. They are now the No. 25 team in the country and are ranked for the first time since 2016.
The Trojans will have five days to recuperate before traveling to Palo Alto to face Stanford at 8 p.m. Friday.