Women’s basketball loses in first round
The No. 8 seed Trojans fell 57-62 in overtime to the No. 9 seed Jackrabbits in the opening round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament at Cassell Coliseum Friday.
USC was behind almost all of the second half, but stormed back with the help of sophomore forward Rayah Marshall’s 9 points and 4 blocks in the third and fourth quarters. The Trojans were losing 42-45 with 7 seconds left when graduate guard Destiny Littleton splashed a clutch 3-pointer to tie the game at 45, sending it into overtime, where South Dakota State simply outpaced USC.
Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb expressed no remorse nor regrets in her postgame press conference with the media.
“I’m really proud — I’m proud of our team, proud of the people in the locker room,” Gottlieb said. “The journey we went on was an exceptional one … the predominant feeling is pride in this group and what they’ve done for our program.”
Marshall was dominant from the starting tip of the contest. In the Trojans’ first possession of the game, she made an and-one layup but missed the following free throw. USC started off hot from the floor, opening the game on a 12-2 run. However, the Jackrabbits matched Marshall and the Trojans by holding a slim 3-point lead at the end of the first quarter.
USC struggled shooting throughout the entire game, but they were still neck and neck with South Dakota State heading into halftime, with the Jackrabbits holding only a 3-point lead. The Trojans shot an unimpressive 25% from the field in the first half.
“They just took away what we wanted to do,” Littleton said. “They pressured us, they forced us to take shots that we normally wouldn’t take, and so they kind of just got us out of our rhythm a little bit.”
The game was still close throughout the third quarter while Marshall made her first 3-pointer of the season.
In addition to other miscues in the game for the Trojans, they could not stop South Dakota State redshirt senior forward Myah Selland, who ended the game with a game-high 29 points. It seemed like every time she touched the ball, she was either driving for a layup or at the free-throw line.
“[Selland] was on one, you know credit to her she was aggressive the entire game,” Littleton said. “They found her down the stretch … she was definitely a difficult matchup for us.”
Selland took over the game in overtime, as she scored 10 of the Jackrabbits’ 17 points in the period. The Jackrabbits closed out the Trojans and took the 5-point victory.
Although none of the Trojans shot the ball very efficiently, the team seemed to rely on Marshall down the stretch to get a bucket or a stop when they needed one. Marshall’s 7 blocks on the night added to her 98 blocks on the season, breaking Lisa Leslie’s single-season program record.
“For me, I just like to come out and compete. I feel like when I’m blocking shots out there on the defensive end, it’s sparking my team full of energy,” Marshall said. “I’m definitely going to have to brag to Lisa [Leslie] a little bit about that.”
USC ended the season at 21-10 overall, reaching their first NCAA tournament berth since 2014. They were picked to finish ninth in the Pac-12 preseason poll but greatly exceeded expectations.
“I do think there’s a lot of great things in store for our program, but I’ll never forget this group,” Gottlieb said. “They’ve changed the perception of what people think of us.”
Even though the Trojans will be losing a few key seniors next season, they will add the top recruit in the high school class of 2023, Juju Watkins. USC will attempt to build on this season and try to reach their second straight NCAA tournament next spring.