USC Women Take Undefeated Record To Naismith Challenge Finale

    The Trojans are back on the road, looking for a sixth straight victory this weekend.
    Nov. 27, 2015

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    THIS WEEK
    USC is off to its best start since 1993-94 with its impressive 5-0 overall record, and the Women of Troy can match that 15-year-old effort if they can grab one more win this weekend. USC is all set to finish out the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame Challenge against the Gaels (1-4) at 9 a.m. PT on Sunday (Nov. 29) at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.

    FOLLOW ALONG
    The USC-Iona game at the Naismith Hall of Fame Challenge this weekend will be streamed live on WatchESPN. Live stats also will be available through the USC women’s basketball schedule page at usctrojans.com

    WATCH LIVE on WatchESPN

    IN THE NATION
    The Trojans are unranked in this week’s USA Today and Associated Press national polls. Iona also is unranked.

    STRONG START
    With a 5-0 record out of the gates of 2015-16, USC is off to its best season start since 1993-94, when the Women of Troy opened up 6-0 with Cheryl Miller as head coach. That year also was the last time USC finished in first place in the Pac-10 conference. USC’s previous best season starts came in 1985-86 (6-0), 1984-85 (10-0), 1983-84 (10-0), 1982-83 (13-0) and 1981-82 (18-0).

    ZAPPING THE ZAGS
    USC stood its ground for another win on Gonzaga’s home court in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame Challenge, this time staring down the host Bulldogs and tacking up a gutsy 60-56 win to improve to 5-0 on the year. USC had to counter a loud Gonzaga fan base and a foul-filled final frame to fend off the Zags, who had cut the Trojans’ lead down to one in the final minute. USC would finish out the game from the free-throw line, pairing three successful tosses with a strong defensive stand to wrap up the win in Spokane, Wash. USC sputtered in its first quarter, falling behind 21-15 before getting things under control. The Trojans powered up offensively and shut down the Zags, going on a 16-0 run that put USC in the driver’s seat, up 36-28. Five early points from Alexis Lloyd helped USC get its legs underneath it and then Temi Fagbenle established her dominance in the paint. Lloyd’s 3-pointer was the spark for USC’s 16-0 run, in which Fagbenle scored nine of those points. Gonzaga snapped the run at 16-0, but Fagbenle served up the last three points to put USC ahead 36-28 by halftime. Gonzaga had managed only seven points in the quarter. USC continued to show no fear against its hosts. The Trojans scored the first seven points of the half and kept pushing while keeping a tight grip on the Zags. USC outscored Gonzaga 15-10 down the stretch to carry a 51-38 advantage into the fourth. That’s when Gonzaga turned up the noise and turned up the pressure. The Bulldogs benefited from Trojan foul trouble, spending plenty of time on the free-throw line and finding plenty of success there as they interrupted the Trojan flow and ate away at the USC lead. As the foul count climbed for the Trojans, Gonzaga trimmed the lead down to one with a late 9-0 run. Two more free throws had the Trojans in the hot seat, up 55-54 with 1:28 to go. Brianna Barrett would come up clutch in the final stretch, though, for the Trojans. The senior nabbed a big steal and was sent to the line. She nailed both with 26 seconds left to bump USC to a 59-56 lead. Kristen Simon came up huge in forcing two Gonzaga turnovers to keep the Zags out of rhythm, and she’d go to the line with 0.2 seconds on the clock, and the sophomore hit the all-important front end to make it a 60-56 Trojans victory. Temi Fagbenle served up a game-high 21 points — bettering yesterday’s 20-point outing in USC’s overtime win over West Virginia — for the Trojans. Kristen Simon, Jordan Adams and Brianna Barrett each finished up with 9 points, with Barrett adding five assists and going a cool 5-for-5 from the free-throw line. Gonzaga had three players score in double figures. Elle Tinkle had 12 points and Kiara Kudron and Jill Barta scored 11 each. Shelby Cheslek had a game-high 11 rebounds for the Zags. USC shot 44 percent from the floor in the win, to Gonzaga’s 38 percent. The Zags won out on the boards 35-22 but committed 22 turnovers to USC’s 15.

    TROJANS OWN OVERTIME
    USC showed its grit on Monday night, making a powerful stand in overtime after West Virginia had fought back to tie the game in regulation. The Women of Troy dominated overtime in scoring 11 straight points to put the Mountaineers out of reach and eventually wrap up a 78-67 OT victory in Spokane, Wash. The win improves USC to 4-0 on the year, marking the first 4-0 start to a season since 1993-94. Playing in their second game of the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame, the Trojans were faced with their first truly tight contest of the year. After winning its first three games by at least 30-point margins, USC was put to the test tonight as West Virginia dug out of a 10-point hole in the third quarter to lead the game 52-49 entering the fourth. The teams endured 14 lead changes and 11 ties, snarled up for the 11th time in the final minute of regulation. That’s when the Mountaineers answered three straight missed free throws by the Trojans with a score in the paint that locked up the game at 64-64. That would hold through the buzzer, taking the game to overtime. USC’s missed opportunities in regulation were quickly forgotten. USC would go 7-of-6 from the free-throw line in OT to go along with some big buckets from the floor. Kristen Simon scored seven of her final 13 points during overtime, while Brianna Barrett was a perfect 4-for-4 from the stripe. The biggest basket of the final five minutes came from the hot hands of Courtney Jaco, who drained her sixth 3-pointer of the night to set a new career high for herself while boosting the Trojans ahead 69-64 with 3:06 on the clock. USC would keep coming, stymying the Mountaineers on the defensive end while converting when it counted on offense. West Virginia would manage only one lone score from the floor in OT, converting a three-point play with 31 seconds left to make it 75-67. USC would finish it off from the line, wrapping up a powerful performance with a 78-67 final victory. USC finished out the game shooting 37 percent from the floor, and was 20-of-29 from the free-throw line. USC won out on the boards with 48 to WVU’s 41. The Mountaineers shot 42 percent from the floor but spent much less time at the stripe, going 4-of-8 from the free-throw line in the game. USC’s individual efforts were highlighted by Temi Fagbenle’s first career double-double as a Trojan. She’d set her USC career highs tonight with 20 points and 14 rebounds. Courtney Jaco matched Fagbenle with 20 points as well, also notching a new career high for herself. Each of her six 3-pointers came at opportune moments, breathing crucial life into the USC offensive attack. USC also had Brianna Barrett hit double digits with 14 points in the game, as she went 8-of-10 from the free-throw line. Kristen Simon also added 13 points to go along with eight rebounds. Her dedication to the boards paid off late in the game, too, as she’d get the ball back in USC hands on two important occasions late in the game. West Virginia was powered up by a game-high 27 points from Bria Holmes, along with 12 from Katrina Pardee.

    TROJANS AT A GLANCE
    Cynthia Cooper-Dyke and her returning staff of associate head coach Beth Burns and assistants Jualeah Woods and Taja Edwards have constructed a 2015-16 group of Women of Troy with great potential to improve on last year’s 15-15 finish. USC graduated its top scorers and rebounders Kaneisha Horn and Alexyz Vaioletama -- who provided 12.0 and 10.3 points per game, respectively, along with 6.9 rebounds per game apiece – from last year’s squad. Replacing those veterans may not be easy, but Cooper-Dyke is happy with her new roster of players and expects to fill the statistical void that the departed players have left. In fact, she sees this group of Trojans as decidedly capable of making a strong run in the Pac-12 and beyond. Five Women of Troy return from last year’s roster, with Jordan Adams, Brianna Barrett and Courtney Jaco standing out as the only players with at least two seasons of work under their belts at Troy, but they also boast winning experience as members of the 2014 Pac-12 Tournament Championship team. Returners Alexis Lloyd and Kristen Simon played their first seasons as Trojans last year. As the veterans of the bunch, that group is joined by a solid seven new Trojans set to hit the court this season. Two transfers, three international additions, one California product and one North Carolina native will all don Cardinal and Gold for the first time in 2015-16.

    WORLDLY WOMEN OF TROY
    The international flavor coming to Troy this season adds a new element to the USC gameplan. In the recent past, no more than one international player has been on a USC roster at a time. This year, USC welcomes Candela Abejón from Spain, Dani Milisic from Australia and Khaedin Taito from New Zealand. Two more Trojan newcomers also have strong ties overseas. A 2012 Olympian for Great Britain, Temi Fagbenle was raised in London and her family now lives in Nigeria. She joins the Trojan Family with one year of eligibility left after finishing her degree at Harvard. True freshman Marguerite Effa, meanwhile, also has roots in Africa, having lived in Cameroon before moving to California, where she attended high school.

    STICKING STATESIDE
    USC’s two homegrown newcomers are true freshman Aliyah Mazyck – from Charlotte, N.C. – and Connecticut transfer Sadie Edwards, who joined the Women of Troy in January 2015 and will be eligible for competition after this fall stretch of 2015.

    KEY FORCE
    Temi Fagbenle will preside over the paint for the Trojans along with returning sophomore post Kristen Simon. Newcomers Marguerite Effa and Dani Milisic also will loom large down low to help deepen the USC inside presence. Milisic is set as a Spring 2016 enrollee, joining the Trojans after the fall semester.

    GUARD PLAY
    In the backcourt, USC returns a set of three starting guards. Jordan Adams and Brianna Barrett combined forces as USC’s assist leaders last season. The redshirt junior and senior, respectively, are called upon to help drive the USC offense. Adams boasts the ability to fit in at any spot on the court, while Courtney Jaco steps back into her sniper position beyond the arc. Jaco was USC’s top 3-point shooter last season, and as junior she’s again primed for her key role in the USC attack. True freshman Aliyah Mazyck can also step in at the point, and Khaedin Taito brings additional power to the plan of attack. Meanwhile, Candela Abejón, Sadie Edwards and Alexis Lloyd add further depth to the USC backcourt.

    COMMITTED!
    The USC women’s basketball program will grow four players stronger with the signing of a solid set of new Women of Troy set to come to campus in 2016. With national letters of intent signed and delivered on Nov. 11, USC head coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke and her coaching staff are proud to announce the addition of Valerie Higgins, Asiah Jones, Minyon Moore and Ja’Tavia Tapley to the USC program next season. In all, the stellar new class weighs in at No. 7 in the nation according to Blue Star and No. 10 according to espnW HoopGurlz. A 6-0 guard, Valerie Higgins is a Southern California product who has a laundry list of accolades from her prep career at Chaminade College Prep and with the Nike Cal Stars club team. Named to the All-CIF First Team, she also has been named SoCal Player of the Year and was ranked as an ESPN Top-10 Wing. She’s put up big numbers, too, averaging 15 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists and 6 steals per game. A two-time Nike EYBL National Champion, Higgins also helped lead her Chaminade Prep squad to a 27-4 record while grabbing two wins over top-ranked Mater Dei last season. A 6-3 forward, South Carolina product Asiah Jones is coming off a junior season at Woodmont High in which she averaged 19 points and 9 rebounds per game. She also has notched a career-high nine blocks in a single game, a testament to her size and skill that makes her a powerful addition to the Trojan gameplan. A Northern California product, 5-8 guard Minyon Moore comes to Troy from Salesian High in the Bay Area. A proven producer, Moore averaged 14 points, 7 assists, 5 steals and 5 rebounds per game and helped lead Salesian to the North Coast Section Division IV Championship. A 6-3 forward, Ja’Tavia Tapley joins the Trojan Family from Florida. The out-of-state import will be at home among the well-traveled Women of Troy, who will have nine different states and overseas nations represented when Tapley joins the crew along with fellow signee and South Carolina product Jones. Tapley ranks as the No. 39 overall prospect in the nation and stands as the No. 6 small forward in the land. An All-State First Team selection in 2015, Tapley is sure to bring a powerful presence to USC next season.

    TUNE IN TO THE TROJANS
    The Women of Troy have 14 televised regular-season games this season, with Pac-12 Networks also planning to broadcast games at the Pac-12 Tournament. All of USC’s regular-season televised appearances will air on Pac-12 Los Angeles, with some games also airing nationally or in other regions. Check the USC schedule at usctrojans.com for more info. Also check with your local cable provider for channel information. All told, USC will potentially cross paths with seven teams that reached the NCAA Tournament last year. All non-televised USC home games will be streamed live at http://pac-12.com/live/usc-2