Beavers spoil Trojans tournament play

Four players on Women's basketball is gathered around preparing for a team huddle
The Trojans had high hopes coming into the Pac-12 tournament, but bowed out after one game. (Cassandra Yra | Daily Trojan)

The No. 6 seed USC Trojans fell to the No. 11 seed Oregon State Beavers 48-56 in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament at Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas. The underdog Beavers, who only won four regular season conference games, seemed to outmatch the five-point favorite Trojans the entire game. 

“Credit to them, and they earned that win, they were better than us in virtually every way,” said Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb in a postgame press conference. “It was the type of game that they wanted to play more than it was the type of game we wanted to play.”

The game was neck and neck in the first half, with the Trojans holding a mere one-point lead going into the half. The Beavers were shooting a poor 29.6% from the floor, but the Trojans were shooting an even worse 28.6% from the field.

“I thought we were playing pretty undisciplined with our shot selection from tip to horn. I think they had a game plan defensively … and we played right into their hands by taking some early not so great shots,” Gottlieb said. “The way we played on offense was not how we practiced this week.”

In the second-half, the game was full of runs. The Trojans jumped out to a 7-point lead, but the Beavers went on an 11-0 run to erase that deficit and take a four-point lead. In the fourth quarter, Oregon State sealed the game with free throws. The Beavers shot an excellent 19-21 from the free-throw line, with the Trojans only making five of their eight attempts in the entire game.

“Obviously the free-throw line, if you look at the numbers … that is a huge differentiating factor,” Gottlieb said. “We made more field goals and more threes. But I think when it came down to it, the game never felt like it was the way we wanted to feel.” 

Graduate guard Destiny Littleton, the Trojans’ second-leading scorer and court general on offense, struggled throughout the game. Littleton ended the game with 12 points shooting 3-15 from the field. This is Littleton’s 25th time scoring in double digits this season.

“I think personally [I need to work on] shot selection,” said Littleton in an emotional postgame press conference. “I mean it’s a lot of pressure that is on my shoulders and just making sure that the team sticks together, stays together, but I do have the ball in my hands a lot and just recognizing when a good shot is a good shot and a bad shot is a bad shot.”

One bright spot for the Trojans was graduate forward Kadi Sissoko, who continued her team-leading in points per game. Sissoko led the team in points again, dropping 16 on the Beavers. This is Sissoko’s fourth consecutive game in double digits.

Finishing the regular season 21-9, the Trojans are hopeful they will be dancing in March.

“I dont think it’s [the loss] indicative of the year that we’ve had and obviously grateful that I think we have more basketball in front of us to have a chance to play this feeling out of ourselves,” Gottlieb said.

Before USC’s first round loss, they were a projected 10-seed in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament according to ESPN’s Charlie Creme. With the Trojans’ resume and four Quad 1 wins against No. 6 Stanford, No. 20 Colorado and two against Washington State, they will have a good shot to compete against 67 other teams for their 17th NCAA tournament appearance.

“I just think we have to look back at this game and do some soul searching and just figure out who we want to be in the tournament,” Littleton said. “Moving forward this in between time is kind of weird, you don’t know who you’re going to play, but you have to stay in the gym and do a mental reset.”

To prepare for the madness of March, Gottlieb made it clear to reset after this game and said it’s her job to get the women prepared for battle.

“That translation from practice to the game is my job to hold them accountable to that and that’s what we have to do,” Gottlieb said.

The Trojans main focus the whole season has been on their defense, as this was only the second time of the year that the Trojans lost when holding opponents to 58 or fewer points. USC leads the Pac-12 in scoring defense, holding opponents to only 54.83 points per game.

“I wholeheartedly believe that we do have more basketball to go,” Littleton said. “I think we could really make a good run in the tournament.”

The Trojans now await the NCAA tournament selection show to see if they have more basketball left to play, which will air at 5 p.m. on Sunday, March 12 on ESPN.