USC takes on Stanford in top 25 battle

Graduate forward Rokia Doumbia and the Trojans look to repeat their success against Stanford as they continue their postseason push. (Brooks Taylor | Daily Trojan)

After back-to-back wins last week against Oregon and Oregon State, the women’s basketball team jumped into the AP Top 25 for the first time this season. The Trojans will now look to continue the hot streak in a critical matchup on Friday against No. 3 Stanford.

The Trojans upset the Cardinal, who were ranked No. 2 in the country at the time, in a 55-46 victory earlier this season. The matchup, which took place at Galen Center, was fairly one-sided, as the Trojans never trailed. The Trojans shot 42.1% from the 3-point line to Stanford’s 19% and forced seven more turnovers, which helped USC seal the nine-point victory. 

“We know it’s going to be tough. They’re so good,” said second-season Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “We’re a better team than when we played them. So, we know we have to bring a top effort and be clicking on all cylinders to try to get a win up there.” 

The one thing the Trojans did not win in their first matchup with the Cardinal was the rebounding battle, getting outrebounded 40-36. Stanford ranks top five in the country in rebounding, led by junior forward Cameron Brink and senior guard Haley Jones, who both average over 9 rebounds per game.

“Gotta box out. I mean, they’re huge. You got to put a body on someone,” Gottlieb said when asked about winning the rebounding battle this time around. “Our aggression level is important because we want to try to get some extra possessions.” 

Forward Cameron Brink (14.5 ppg) and guard Haley Jones (13.3 ppg) have been the driving force of the Cardinal’s success all season long. Both Brink and Jones shot under 25% from the field in the loss to the Trojans in January, and the Cardinal will need both of their stars to flip the script if they want to avoid being swept by USC.

The Trojans, on the other hand ,are led by their star veterans, graduate forward Kadi Sissoko (15 ppg) and graduate guard Destiny Littleton (13.9 ppg). 

Sissoko, who transferred to USC from Minnesota this past offseason, didn’t play in the first meeting between the two squads due to a leg injury. She could be the difference-maker for the Trojans in this upcoming matchup.

Littleton, who transferred to USC this past offseason from South Carolina, led the Trojans with 18 points and 6 assists in their win against Stanford. She looks to have another big performance on Friday. 

“Honestly, just focusing on each possession … and making sure I’m a leader on the court,” Littleton said. “The offensive end is just going to fall for me … so just getting my teammates involved and understanding that this is a really big game and another opportunity to get a great win.”

Stanford has been dominant at Maples Pavilion this season, winning 14 out of 15 home games and 11 in a row. The Cardinal is one of only four teams in the country with 14 home wins this season, so it will be a daunting challenge for USC. However, the Trojans have held their own this season on the road, with a 6-3 record away from Galen Center. Without their home crowd behind them, the Trojans will have to create energy in different ways.

“We have to feed into each other’s energy,” said junior guard Kayla Williams. “So, whoever’s on the floor, the bench has to bring that same energy … We just all have to play with each other, play for each other and back each other up on or off the court?”

The Trojans haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2014, but their odds of ending this drought are as promising as ever as they are a projected No. 8 seed in Charlie Creme’s latest Bracketology. An upset against Stanford will make their chances of dancing in March a whole lot better. 

The Trojans will take on Stanford at 8 p.m. Friday at Maples Pavilion.