Last week's Pac-12 spotlight game was played in Los Angeles where cross-town rivals UCLA and USC set out to prove whether the prevailing would reflect the new order or old guard. USC made it clear that the weather is changing in the Southland.
The game itself wasn't exactly high-level basketball, but the passion with which the low-scoring battle, which ended in a 47-43 victory for the Ladies of Troy, was fought made it well worth watching nonetheless. Amid the dozens of missed shots and extended scoring droughts for both sides, the battle largely played out on defense, and, in particular, on the glass.
Like a wrestler finally breaking free from an extended head lock, USC may have found itself as a team at the John Wooden Center last Saturday.
According to USC guard Ashley Corral, she and her teammates expected the game to be laden with bumps and bruises.
UCLA always brings physicality, especially with us, said Corral.
USC entered the game with a 43-37 record against the Bruins, but had lost its four most recent encounters with their cross-town rivals. Time and again, the Women of Troy had been outscrapped, outhustled and outscored by UCLA. In the four-game UCLA-led tutorial, the Trojans missed shots early, lost confidence, and watched the Bruins pick them apart on the boards and in the open court. Twice in the four defeats, the Women of Troy committed 20 turnovers, three times in the four-game slide, they were outrebounded by double digits. USCs offensive leader, Briana Gilbreath wilted first, missing 37 of her cumulative 45 shots in the four losses.
The losing streak to UCLA so rankled USC coach Michael Cooper, he issued the following prescription after last Januarys 42-61 loss at Pauley Pavilion: I thought our defense was going to be a lot better. Weve got to get a lot nastier.
And on Saturday, it looked like the Trojans had finally taken the prescribed medicine. Call it "nastier," call it "tougher," USC -- which has played the toughest schedule in the conference and the second-toughest in NCAA Division I, based on their Strength of Schedule (SOS) ranking from realtimerpi.com -- defined themselves anew.