2014 Pac-12 Women's Basketball Championship Game: USC's second half surge tops Oregon State
SEATTLE – Trailing 36-29 at halftime Sunday, the USC women’s basketball team seemingly had no answer for late-season power Oregon State, winners of 11 consecutive games, all by double-digits.
For 20 minutes, the Beavers scored when the Trojans went zone. They scored when the Trojans went man-to-man. They scored from inside and out while shooting 44 percent from the field.
When USC started the second half in a frantic full-court press, the tempo changed. So did the Trojans.
The change-of-pace helped USC to a 71-62 win in the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament title game at KeyArena. The victory gave USC it’s first ever Pac-12 Tournament Championship and guaranteed the Trojans an NCAA Tournament bid for the first time since 2006.
“I thought the press was the difference in the game,” said first-year USC head coach Cynthia Cooper after her team won four games in as many days. “I thought we were slow and lethargic and really played Oregon State’s pace in the first half. Mentally we were trying to figure out if we had enough energy to finish this thing out.”
“If we were going to lose, we were going to lose with no stone unturned. These women stepped up to the plate.”
[Related video: Trojans celebrate with confetti, cartwheels, cupcakes]
USC scored nine straight points to begin the second half, capping a 12-0 run that began when guard Brianna Barrett made a 3-pointer 10 seconds before the break. When USC forward Kiki Alofaituli made a put-back layup with 17:31 left in the game, it gave the Trojans a 38-36 lead.
“Once we pressed, that got us going,” said USC guard Ariya Crook after being named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. “Our energy went sky-high and we just went on from there.”
USC never trailed again and outscored Oregon State 42-26 during the final 20 minutes. With 11:40 left, USC held a 48-46 lead before a 12-2 run clinched the victory.
[Related video: OSU coach Rueck describes team's state following loss]
Beavers coach Scott Rueck saw first-hand what the press did to his team. The good news: Oregon State is still expected to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
“The full-court press was obviously the biggest difference,” he said. “I thought we came out soft to start the second half. For whatever reason, that’s something that’s happened to us a few times this year, and they gained momentum right away.”
Oregon State freshman guard Sydney Wiese momentarily seemed the kryptonite to the USC’s tournament run. After all, it was Wiese, an All-Pac-12 selection, adeptly running the Beavers’ motion offense early, finding cutters and knocking down open shots. The lefty from Phoenix, Ariz. was a pint-sized thorn in the side of opposing defenses throughout the season, and that didn’t change in her first tournament finals.
[Related video: USC's Cynthia Cooper presented with game ball]
“When we sped up the game, that got her out of her rhythm,” Cooper said. “That’s what needed to do to keep her from taking over the game in the second half."
Meanwhile, the USC offense that knocked in eight threes in Saturday’s 72-68 win over No. 1 seed Stanford was held to 33 percent shooting in the first half by Oregon State, which entered the week the conference’s top-ranked field-goal percentage defense (35 percent).
The Beavers got off to a quick 5-0 start when center Ruth Hamblin (10 points, seven rebounds) dropped in a baby hook and Wiese followed the next possession with a three-pointer from the top of the key. The Trojans then reeled off six consecutive points, but Hamblin responded once again with a running layup through the lane. At the first television timeout, the score was 7-6, Oregon State.
The teams traded buckets for a while before USC’s Desiree Bradley knocked in a three to pull the score to 22-21 with 6:48 left in the first half. When Barrett hit a three-pointer with 10 seconds before intermission, trimming the lead to seven, it foreshadowed a second half that ended with the USC bench emptying onto the court in celebration.
Forward Deven Hunter paced the Beavers with 19 points and 11 rebounds in 35 minutes. Wiese cooled in the second half, finishing with 17 points. Crook took 17 shots, making six, to lead the Trojans with 16 points and finish the tournament with 63.
[Photos: USC Celebrates win]
Below are selections to the All-Tournament Team:
Ariya Crook, USC
Lia Galdeira, WSU
Ruth Hamblin, Oregon State
Cassie Harberts, USC (Also selected in 2011)
Chiney Ogwumike, Stanford (Also selected from 2011-13)
Sydney Wiese, Oregon State