Trojans turn to Washington schools after back-to-back losses

The Trojans look to finish their season off strong in their last two regular season games against Washington and Washington State as they head into the Pac-12 tournament next week. (Cassandra Yra | Daily Trojan)

After a strong showing at home in early February, the 19-8 USC women’s basketball team headed to the Bay Area and suffered back-to-back tight losses against No. 3 Stanford and UC Berkeley by just 3 points each. As the regular season comes to a close, USC looks to conclude Pac-12 play with a strong home showing against Washington and Washington State. 

Although the Trojans had beaten then-ranked No. 2 Stanford earlier in the season by a score of 55-46, the Cardinal got the best of them by a score of 50-47 in their second matchup of the season. The Trojans shot a season-low 22.2% from the field and 34.8% from the 3-point line in the game. Despite contributions from graduate student guard Destiny Littleton and graduate student guard Okako Adika, who scored 15 and 13 points respectively, the Trojans’ poor shooting ended up being their downfall.

The Trojans did, however, hold the Cardinal to just 50 points, an abnormally low number in comparison to the rest of their games from this season. Additionally, the Trojans held Stanford to a season-low in points scored in a half with the cardinals scoring just 18 points in the second half, with their second-lowest scoring half coming against USC in their first matchup in mid-January. 

However, without sophomore forward Rayah Marshall at their disposal, Stanford junior forward Cameron Brink was able to get into the paint and score a team-high 12 points. In an interview with the Daily Trojan, Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb says that she is pleased with her team’s efforts in recent matchups. 

“We’re at our best when we’ve got some collective influence going on,” Gottlieb said. “Rayah is really big for us and when she’s on her game she impacts the defensive end and the offensive end. Our guard play is critical postseason [since] it’s a guard’s game and Kadi [Sissoko] was phenomenal on Sunday.” 

Up until their matchup with Stanford this past week, the Trojans were 18-0 when holding an opponent to 58 or fewer points, which is a testament to their defensive efforts this season. USC is currently ranked 6th in blocks per game, mainly thanks to Marshall, who sits at No. 3 in the nation in blocks per game at 3.33. Furthermore, the team is 14th in field goal percentage defense at 35.5% and 3-point percentage defense at 26.4%. 

Although Marshall returned for the Trojans’ game against Cal this past Sunday, the Golden Bears’ high percentage 3-point shooting allowed them to sneak past USC in overtime by a score of 81-78. Despite the loss, the Trojans took away many positives from their second game of the road trip, including graduate student forward Kadi Sissoko surpassing 1,000 career points and Marshall’s continued paint presence. Marshall tacked on 3 more blocks to her season total of 80, the fourth-most by a Trojan in a single season. USC now must turn and look ahead as they face Washington and Washington State this weekend, but Gottlieb feels positive about her team at this point in the season.

“We’ve put ourselves in a position to extend our time with this group,” Gottlieb said. “We’re excited about what is in front of us and what we are capable of.”

Following the Trojans’ first sweep of the season, the regular season’s final games become even more important as the team looks to build confidence going into the Pac-12 tournament from March 1-5 in Las Vegas. Although USC defeated Washington earlier this year in overtime by a score of 63-54, the Huskies are coming off two wins against Oregon and Oregon State, in which leading scorer sophomore forward Dalayah Daniels scored a combined 21 points. 

“Washington is really hot, they are playing extremely well,” said Gottlieb. “They are playing with confidence and we had a tough one up there in Seattle so we’re gonna look to be super focused against them.” 

In addition to Marshall and Sissoko, Littleton’s play has constantly been a huge factor in USC’s success this season as her years of experience allows her to fill a much-needed leadership role on the team. Gottlieb speaks on what Littleton’s play means for her team.

“She’s so high IQ and she’s a really smart player,” said Gottlieb. “She does a lot of different things for us and gets us situated and gets us in our right spots, but we also ask her to make shots. I think her being a little bit refreshed and confident is going to be really big for the end of the season and the postseason.”

The Trojans’ veteran players will be especially important heading into postseason play as they take on Washington Thursday at 8 p.m. in Galen Center.