It’s time to dance: Both USC basketball teams selected for NCAA tournament
It was all celebration for the USC women’s basketball team on Selection Sunday.
As Virginia Tech rolled across the screen at the team’s watch party, both the coaches and players knew their name was soon to be called. Then, after Chattanooga was announced as the 16 seed, the television broadcast could barely say the letters U-S-C before an uproar engulfed Rock and Reilly’s and everyone in the jam-packed restaurant began to celebrate.
“Honestly, I was kind of nervous. But it’s very exciting,” said graduate forward Kadi Sissoko. “It’s been a minute since [the Trojans] actually won anything or went to March Madness. So it’s very exciting and we’re all trying to come together and prove something.”
The Trojans, who are an 8 seed in their region, will play No. 9 seed South Dakota State on Friday. But Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb said the team could enjoy the Sunday Selection feeling before thinking about SDSU.
“Today, it’s okay to celebrate. It’s a lot about joy. We’ll get back to work tomorrow, but I think it’s okay to take a moment and appreciate that it’s been a long time for USC since getting an at-large bid,” Gottlieb said. “We were picked [to finish] ninth in this conference and now we’re a tournament team.”
On the other side of the bracket, the USC men’s basketball team received a 10 seed in the East region and will play Michigan State in Columbus, Ohio on Friday.
“We’re excited to be in March Madness. Our players had an outstanding season this year,” said Head Coach Andy Enfield in a press conference Sunday. “We’re excited to go compete for a National Championship and it starts with our game on Friday.”
The Trojans are 0-1 against the Spartans this century, losing in their first and only matchup in 2009, 74-69. USC will now get a good look against their future Big Ten opponent before they join the conference for the 2024-2025 season.
This is the first time the women’s and men’s teams have made the NCAA tournament in the same season since the 1996-1997 postseason. The 2023 tournament also marks the sixth time this has happened in the history of the two programs.
The women’s team, which has won two national championships in its history, has now made their first NCAA tournament since 2014.
“I feel like hard work has been showing off now. I feel like our competitive spirit is out there for everyone,” said sophomore forward Rayah Marshall. “We’re turning heads and I’m just extremely proud to be a part of it.”
Contrary to the team itself, Gottlieb, in her second season as USC’s head coach, and four Trojan players have tournament experience. Gottlieb led the UC Berkeley Golden Bears to seven NCAA tournaments as their head coach, including a Final Four run.
“Whatever I can do to prepare them and make them comfortable in the moment just so that we can be the best version of ourselves, I’ll try to do,” Gottlieb said.
Enfield has now led the men’s team to the NCAA tournament for three straight years, marking his fifth trip to the tournament in his 10 year tenure at USC.
“As a coaching staff, we’ve enjoyed coaching all of those teams, all been very successful,” Enfield said. “This team is a little unique because with two experienced players, [fifth year guard] Drew [Peterson] and [senior guard] Boogie [Ellis], coming into the year, we didn’t know what to expect and they improved dramatically and we’re very proud of them.”
In last year’s tournament, USC was bounced in the Round of 64 by No. 10 seed Miami despite being the No. 7 seed in their region.
“We’re experienced now. We’re one year older, feel like we’re a better team,” Ellis said. “So I feel like we’re ready for the challenge and I’m excited.”
The Trojans were the third-to-last team called during the Selection Show, but Enfield was confident USC would be selected.
“I think we all thought that we deserved to be in the tournament,” Enfield said.
Both the men’s and women’s lost in their first game of the 2023 Pac-12 tournament, but those losses were not enough to keep the teams from receiving an at-large bid. Both Trojan teams will look to move past Las Vegas and make a run during March Madness.
The women’s team tips off at 5 p.m. and the men’s team will play at 9:15 a.m. on Friday.