Women's Basketball Game of the Week preview: USC at Colorado

CUBuffs.com, Associated Press

Who: USC at Colorado

When: 6 p.m. PT/7 p.m. MT on Pac-12 Networks, with Kate Scott and Brenda VanLengen on the call.

The second half of conference play gets underway for the Buffs and Trojans with this back end of a weekend set in Boulder.

The Story so Far: USC (16-5, 4-5 Pac-12)

The Trojans stormed out of the 2015-16 gates, ending non-conference play as one of two undefeated Pac-12 teams alongside Oregon. The reality of Pac-12 play struck right off the bat, though, as USC dropped its conference lidlifter in Westwood to rival UCLA and suffered a three-game losing skid before stopping the slide at home against Cal. Things got more difficult when two starters – Jordan Adams and Briana Barrett – became academically ineligible, as the two of them averaged a combined 20.4 points per game. The Trojans are 2-3 since the duo were declared ineligible but have won their last two, including Friday night’s impressive 70-59 road triumph against a Utah team that has shown a lot more fight than many predicted.

It’s not the biggest game of the season by any stretch of the imagination for the Trojans, but it’s one of their more important contests. Why? Because Colorado, winless in conference play, is the only team aspiring Pac-12 NCAA tournament teams can ill afford to lose to if they’re close to being on the bubble. Right now, USC is projected as a No. 9 seed by ESPN’s Charlie Creme, which means a loss to the Buffs could put the Trojans in a more precarious position come March (depending on how the rest of the season goes, of course). A win doesn’t do much against a 5-15 team that is 175th in RPI, but a loss would be an albatross.

The Story so Far: Colorado (5-15, 0-9 Pac-12)

There’s no way around it- this season hasn’t been pretty for the Buffs. Colorado, which enters Sunday night’s game on a 10-game losing skid, is last in the Pac-12 in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense and 11th in league in scoring and shooting. Beyond that, holding on to the ball was an issue last time out against UCLA, as the Buffs turned it over 18 times in the first half alone (they average 16.5 giveaways per game) en route to an 82-64 loss to the Bruins. While the Buffs haven’t been up to snuff in league play, it also certainly doesn’t help that this is the deepest the conference has perhaps ever been. Every other team besides Colorado in the Pac-12 is a top-85 RPI team, so there really aren’t many chances for the Buffs to try to get into the win column. Overall, Colorado has played the ninth-toughest schedule in the nation.

That said, head coach Linda Lappe has had success in Boulder before - first as a player, helping the Buffs to three straight NCAA tournaments, and then as a coach, taking CU to the 2013 big dance. Despite the losing, she has kept a positive attitude and sees a bright future for this bunch that features a lot of young talent – three of their main contributors are freshmen. Lappe has seen her team do some good things, most recently keeping it within two possessions in the fourth quarter against the top-10 Beavers before Oregon State started to pull away to the tune of a 14-point win.

Three Players to Watch: USC

  1. #41 Temi Fagbenle (6’4 Forward, Graduate Transfer)- The Harvard alum has become USC’s do-it-all post, leading the team in scoring (13.8 ppg), rebounding (8.9 rpg), and blocks (1.5 bpg) and is coming off an eight-point, 12-board performance against the Utes.
  2. #14 Sadie Edwards (5’10 Guard, Sophomore)- Another transfer, the former UConn Husky wasn’t eligible to play until December but has stepped right in and is one of three eligible Trojans averaging double figures. Edwards has been a catalyst for the Trojans during their current mini two-game win streak, averaging 19 points and four steals in the two contests.
  3. #10 Courtney Jaco (5’8 Guard, Junior)- Depth has become a bigger concern with two of their starters being academically ineligible, so Jaco’s minutes off the bench have been all the more important. She had 12 off the bench in the win over Utah and nine (on three shots) in the win over Cal as a reserve last weekend. The team's most dangerous threat from distance, Jaco is 6-for-10 from downtown over her last three games.

Three Players to Watch: Colorado

  1. #50 Jamee Swan (6’2 Forward, Senior)- While it’s all about looking towards the future for the Buffs, the team’s only senior is doing what she can to provide leadership, leading the team with 13.2 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.
  2. #14 Kennedy Leonard (5’8 Guard, Freshman)- One of two freshmen starters normally in the lineup, Leonard is the team’s second-leading scorer at 11.3 points per game and is first on the team with an impressive 4.6 assists per contest. There’s room for improvement efficiency-wise, however, as Leonard shoots just 33 percent from the floor and commits 3.4 turnovers per game.
  3. #2 Alexis Robinson (5’10 Guard, Freshman)- The other regular freshman starter for Linda Lappe, Robinson is one of two Buffs to shoot 40 percent form downtown and is one of three Buffs to have more than 20 steals on the season.

Three Notes to Know

  1. Colorado is trying to avoid becoming the second team to go winless in Pac-12 play- There’s plenty of season left, but Colorado needs to make some serious strides to avoid joining the 2001-02 Washington State Cougars as being the only teams to go 0-18 in league history. Heading into Sunday’s game, Colorado is getting outscored by an average of 15.2 points per game in conference play and, after losing to Washington by two and Wazzu by eight in the opening weekend, has lost by at least 13 points in seven straight games.
  2. Magic No. 70 for USC: The Trojans are 12-1 this season when scoring at least 70 points in a game. When they’re held to 69 or fewer, head coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke’s crew is just 4-4.
  3. Colorado needs to get off to a good start- The Buffs are 4-2 when leading after the first quarter and just 1-13 when tied or trailing after 10 minutes of action.
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9:00 PM PT

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