Galen Center hosts March Madness

USC is joined by three teams traveling to Los Angeles from around the country for the NCAA Tournament.

By THOMAS JOHNSON, KASEY KAZLINER, DARREN PARRY and JOSHUA SACHER
Galen Center has never hosted an NCAA Tournament game. With three games this weekend, seats should fill up as tickets are selling fast. (Robert Westermann / Daily Trojan)

USC Trojans

By THOMAS JOHNSON

This team is no longer just one player.

USC women’s basketball (26-5, 13-5 Pac-12) used to just be the JuJu Watkins show, and the Trojans were able to win with just the freshman guard’s stardom. USC can still do that — Watkins scored 33 points, 16 more than her next closest teammate, in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals — but at this point, it does not have to solely rely on Watkins as the Trojans head into the NCAA Tournament with a No. 1 seed for the first time since 1986.


Daily headlines, sent straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our newsletter to keep up with the latest at and around USC.


Each member of the Trojan starting lineup offers a different skill than the next. 

Graduate guard McKenzie Forbes has knocked down more 3-pointers than any other Trojan this season. Junior center Rayah Marshall will block shots and bring down boards as easy as floating down a lazy river. USC is 18-2 when graduate forward Kaitlyn Davis is in the starting lineup, as she’s the do-it-all player who will litter the stat sheet with steals, assists, blocks and rebounds. Graduate guard Kayla Padilla will pester opposing point guards up and down the court to keep them on their heels.

As the team has started to round into form — riding a five-game win streak and winning 12 of its last 13 — the Trojans have shown off their variety of pieces as they look to make a deep run into the tournament. 

USC, as the No. 1 seed in its region, is guaranteed to play one game this weekend — against No. 16-seeded Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (23-8, 14-4 Southland) — with a chance to square off against the winner of the Kansas (19-12, 11-7 Big 12) versus Michigan (20-13, 9-9 Big Ten) matchup, assuming the 32.5-point favorite Trojans can take down the Islanders.

To add to the drama, USC gets to host games in an NCAA Tournament it is playing in for the first time since 1994. The Trojans might be playing at Galen Center for the first time since Feb. 25 — the last time they lost — but Galen was an oasis for the team as USC amassed a 14-2 record at home this season.

“We went from last year from being like an 8 or 9 seed to our dreams coming true this year, being a one seed, hosting at home,” Marshall said on Selection Sunday. “We’re grateful for it, and it’s a moment we’ve worked for.”

There is nothing like the Madness of March, but the Trojans are in prime position to make it past the first two rounds for the first time since the 1994 Tournament. They still need to be careful, though; two No. 1 seeds in the 2023 edition of the Big Dance faltered in the second round.

But if USC keeps playing like it played during its Pac-12 Tournament run and playing as a team rather than running through a single player, the Trojans might be traveling up to Portland in a week’s time.

“You don’t get to carry over points from the Pac-12 Tournament,” said Head Coach Lindsay Gottlieb on Selection Sunday. “But I think the lessons that we learned from that are things that continue through.”

USC begins its perilous journey as a No. 1 seed in March when it takes on the Islanders at Galen Center on Saturday, with tipoff scheduled for 1:30 p.m.

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders

By KASEY KAZLINER

The Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders earned their first-ever bid to the NCAA Tournament following a 68-61 victory over Lamar University in the Southland Conference title game.

The Islanders (23-8, 14-4 Southland Conference) placed second in the conference, only behind Lamar (24-7, 17-1 Southland), but still managed to upset the Cardinals when it mattered most. 

March Madness is all about getting hot at the right time, which A&M-Corpus Christi has certainly done; the Islanders are on a five-game winning streak, are victors of nine of their last 10 and haven’t lost a game since Feb. 24.

Senior guard Paige Allen was the Islanders’ main catalyst against Lamar in the SLC title game, with a double-double performance of 22 points and 12 rebounds. She’s posted double-digit points in her last six games and will hope to keep the Islanders’ season afloat. 

The 5-foot-8 playmaker kept her team’s dreams alive after sinking a last-second bucket against Southeastern Louisiana University (19-12, 14-4 SLC) the game prior and was electric all tournament. Allen was awarded Southland Conference Tournament MVP thanks to her stout play.

Graduate forward Alecia Westbrook has been A&M-Corpus Christi’s most reliable scorer this season, averaging 11.4 points on 51.6% shooting from the floor. An unselfish player, Westbrook also leads the Islanders with 2.6 assists per game.

Head Coach Royce Chadwick is the winningest Southland Conference coach of all time, surpassing 700 career wins in 2021-22. While the NCAA Tournament is uncharted territory for the Islanders, this will be Chadwick’s eighth time competing in March Madness.

A&M-Corpus Christi is one of four teams playing in March Madness for the first time; California Baptist University (28-3, 18-2 Western Athletic Conference), Presbyterian College (21-14, 8-8 Big South Conference) and Columbia University (23-7, 13-1 Ivy League) will all finally dance, too.

Matching up against USC (26-5, 13-5 Pac-12) will be an extremely tall task for the Islanders. Only one No. 16 seed has dethroned a No. 1 seed in women’s college basketball history: Harvard took down Stanford at Maples Pavilion in a stunning upset in 1998. USC will hope to avoid being on the wrong side of history and will look to take an easy victory to head into the next round with some steam.

A&M-Corpus Christi will venture to Galen Center to commence its March Madness play against USC on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. The winner will face the victor of No. 8-seeded Kansas (19-12, 11-7 Big 12) versus No. 9-seeded Michigan (20-13, 9-9 Big Ten) on Monday.

Michigan Wolverines

By JOSHUA SACHER

In their 12 all-time appearances in the NCAA Tournament, the Michigan Wolverines have a record of 11-11, but they have yet to reach a Final Four. However, with a veteran squad, Head Coach Kim Barnes Arico will look to make history this March.

The Wolverines (20-13, 9-9 Big Ten) enter the Big Dance as a No. 9 seed, coming off a 95-68 loss to No. 2 Iowa (29-4, 15-3 Big Ten) in the Big Ten Tournament Semifinals. Before that, they posted a 5-5 record in their past 10 regular-season games. 

There are several key players to look out for on this squad. Junior guard Laila Phelia is leading the way in scoring with 16.8 points per game, followed by junior guard Jordan Hobbs with 9.9 and senior guard Lauren Hansen with 11.9. 

The Wolverines also do a good job crashing the glass, with 36 rebounds per game. Senior forward Cameron Williams is tallying 4.7 rebounds per game, with senior guard Elissa Brett at 4.2 and sophomore forward Chyra Evans at 4.3 also contributing in a big way. 

One other player to look out for is junior guard Jordan Hobbs. She leads Michigan with three assists per game and shoots an incredible 39.1% from beyond the arc. The Wolverines can hang with anyone when they are making 3-pointers; coming into the tournament, they were shooting 35.3%, ranking 37th in the country. 

Let’s look at the Wolverines schedule. The Wolverines had trouble gaining momentum the whole season. They won seven of their first eight games but failed to win more than two straight until March. They defeated the then-No. 17 Ohio State Buckeyes (25-5, 16-2 Big Ten) by a score of 69-60 to earn their most memorable win of the season. 

Overall, Michigan’s overall NET Ranking is 48. Their record against Quadrant 1 opponents is 5-10, with a winning percentage of .357%. Additionally, the Wolverines have won four games against Quadrant 2 opponents and six games against Quadrant 3 opponents.

The Wolverines have a tough road ahead of them — including a potential matchup with No. 1 seed USC (26-5, 13-5 Pac- 12) — but will need to take it one game at a time if they want to make their first-ever Final Four. Michigan will face off against No. 8 seed Kansas (19-12, 11-7 Big 12) Saturday at 11 a.m. at Galen Center.

Kansas Jayhawks

By DARREN PARRY

Kansas women’s basketball will be dancing for the second time in the past three seasons under ninth-year Head Coach Brandon Schneider. No. 8-seeded Kansas will bring its veteran presence to Galen Center, with its trio of super seniors consisting of center Taiyanna Jackson, guard Holly Kersgieter and guard Zakiyah Franklin. 

Things were looking bleak for the Jayhawks (19-12, 11-7 Big 12) as they started their season off 9-9, poised to miss their second-straight NCAA Tournament, but a nail-biting 60-58 win over Iowa State (20-11, 12-6 Big 12) propelled them to finish the season winning 10 of their last 13 games.

Although missing the NCAA Tournament last season, Kansas almost did the next best thing in winning the Women’s NIT. After getting snubbed as one of the First Four Out last season for the NCAA Tournament, they ran the table and won six straight games to win the WNIT.

The Jayhawks are bringing back four of the five starters from the WNIT championship game, so their championship pedigree will be a plus for this team in the tournament. 

Even though they possess that veteran capability, they have a fresh face who has led them all the season. Freshman guard S’Mya Nichols has led the Jayhawks in scoring 15.2 points per game with a season high came against Oklahoma (22-9, 15-3 Big 12) when she scored 29 points.

Look for the duo of Nichols and Jackson to operate as one and play the pick-and-roll game with the two averaging the most points on the Kansas roster. Jackson, listed at 6 feet 6 inches tall, is also a defensive force, averaging 9.8 rebounds per game, while tallying 3.13 blocks per game.

Kansas sported four players on the 2023-24 All-Big 12 Women’s Basketball Team with Jackson and Nichols earning a spot on the All-Big 12 First Team and Franklin and Kersgieter receiving an honorable mention spot. 

With this year’s honorable mention, Kersgieter received All-Big 12 honors for the fourth time. The all-time leader in 3-pointers made for Kansas women’s basketball is third on the team in scoring, averaging 11.7 points per game, while shooting 41.5% from the 3-point line.

The Jayhawks have not fared well away from Allen Fieldhouse, going a mere 6-11 in away and neutral site games. Since Los Angeles is around 1,500 miles away from the University of Kansas, Jayhawk fans will need to travel well if they want to turn the tide of underperforming away from home. 

Kansas has played some strong opponents on the season as their schedule is the 10th-hardest in the nation. They have three wins against ranked teams on the year, with the biggest win coming against then-No. 4 Baylor (24-7, 12-6 Big 12). 

Kansas will face No. 9 Michigan (20-13, 9-9 Big 10) on Saturday at Galen Center with a chance of advancing to the round of 32 to play the winner of No. 1 USC (26-5, 13-5 Pac-12) versus No. 16 Texas A&M Corpus-Christi (23-8, 14-4 Southland). 

© University of Southern California/Daily Trojan. All rights reserved.