The women’s basketball team may have started their regular season with three losses, but they fought back and finished the season strong to end 9-9 in the Pac-12 and 19-10 overall. Their last game of the regular season against Colorado on Saturday allowed the team to clinch the No. 7 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament, setting them up to play against Washington State in the first round on Thursday.
“We go into the Pac-12 Tournament with 19 wins,” head coach Mark Trakh said. “That’s pretty good. These kids have somehow squeezed out 19 wins out of this season, 9-9 in a very tough conference …. I think we’ve got a chance. We’re going to play everybody.”
While their conference record may be modest, the team has taken many top-ranked opponents down to the wire. From forcing double overtime with Oregon to holding UCLA to only 59 points, the team has challenged their opponents from the first whistle to the last. Out of their nine losses, four of them ended with the Trojans finishing within 10 points, while three were within 5 points. For Trakh, that shows the team’s heart and how much they enjoy playing together.
“I think the big thing with this team though is if we lose three in a row we do not check out,” Trakh said. “We lost our first three and they didn’t check out. Then, we won two and then lost two, won two and then lost two. They never checked out and that is just being resilient.”
They are going to need to keep that resilience alive as they prepare to take on Washington State. In their last meeting in January, the Trojans came out on top with a 73-72 victory. Every second of their last game was a battle, with 12 lead changes throughout the course of the game. While senior forward Kristin Simon finished with a double-double of 24 points and 13 rebounds and junior guard Aliyah Mazyck contributed her own 25 points, it was their combined defensive effort that secured their close victory.
Sophomore guard Minyon Moore led the charge with eight of her team’s 13 steals. From there, the team was able to convert 26 points of Washington State’s 17 turnovers, which proved vital in the last quarter. The Cougars were up by 10 points before the Trojans would charge back. With WSU’s chance to tie it up in the final seconds, it would be the Trojans’ clean defense, with everyone stepping up, that would keep the victory in their hands.
“They play for each other right now and that’s what’s great,” Trakh said. “Just to see them play for each other and see their leadership. I think that’s the thing I’m most proud of.”
But more than anything, the team is ready for what comes next. The starters have all been averaging over 30 minutes a game, with many of them playing a full 40 minutes on multiple occasions. The team is in shape, has fought for its position in the tournament and is ready to face a familiar opponent. However, while they plan on looking at their past to help prepare for the tournament, they are also viewing it as just another beginning.
“We’re not done,” Trakh said. “We start our third season now. We’re 0-0. Third season’s the Pac-12 Tournament and the fourth season is the NCAA Tournament, hopefully. Now, it is within reach, I really feel.”
While he knows there is more work to be done, Trahk sees his first season back with USC as a major success.
“I’m really proud of these kids from when we took over on May 1,” Trakh said. “I think the coaching staff had to earn the team’s trust and at the same time they had to earn our trust and I think that was what this thing was all about: trust. We’ve won 19 games now, we’re one away from 20, and I’m really really excited about going to the Pac-12 Tournament and the way we’re playing.”
The team will be facing Washington State at 6 p.m. at KeyArena in Seattle for the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament on Thursday. The tournament’s second round begins on Friday. If the Trojans beat the Cougars, they will face Stanford next.