2016 Pac-12 Women's Tournament: Temi Fagbenle helps keep USC's tourney hopes alive
SEATTLE -- USC is playing for its postseason life at this Pac-12 Women's Basketball Tournament. USC forward Temi Fagbenle has extra motivation to make the NCAA tournament.
The senior graduate transfer from Harvard was a part of three WNIT teams during her time with the Crimson including her redshirt freshman year and wants to avoid a fourth tour of duty by going to her first NCAA tournament.
“It kinda sucks to fall short. We used to call the WNIT the “Women’s Not in the Tournament” tournament,” Fagbenle quipped.
The 2012 British Olympian who calls Nigeria home did her best to keep the Trojans’ NCAA tourney hopes alive with a monster 18-point, 17-rebound performance to lead eighth-seeded USC to a 77-73 win over Washington State in the first round of the 2016 Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament Thursday night, stifling the Cougars with superb defense down the stretch.
Fagbenle only scored three of her 18 points in the fourth quarter, but she made numerous winning plays in crunch time. Among them: an offensive rebound off a missed free-throw that led to a Courtney Jaco 3-pointer to tie the game at 68 with 2:36 remaining, securing three missed Wazzu free throws in the final minute, and blocking Borislava Hristova’s potential game-tying shot with eight seconds remaining.
“I just knew that she was going to get that shot up, so it was just like- switch! I was like, ‘Dammit, I’m taking it,’” Fagbenle said. “I don’t know what she’s going to do, but I’m going to stop her.”
The three points she did score in the fourth sealed the game, as Fagbenle hit 3-of-4 free throws in the final 14 seconds to push a 74-73 edge out to a 77-73 triumph. To cap it all off, Fagbenle stole one final pass as the buzzer sounded to squeeze the remaining life out of the Cougars’ Pac-12 tournament hopes.
[Related highlights: USC edges WSU in round one]
“It doesn’t always show on a stat sheet what Temi gives us, but the 17 rebounds showed up on the stat sheet. She got her hands on everything,” USC head coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke said of her team's leading scorer and rebounder on the season. “Literally in the last 40 seconds, she was everywhere. She was the reason we were able to maintain the lead and be in a position to knock down free throws later on in that fourth quarter.”
Despite losing six of their last seven games heading into the Pac-12 tournament and wrapping up the regular season with a 6-12 league mark, USC is still in the hunt for an at-large bid. ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme listed USC in the “First Four Out” of his Mar. 2 bracket projection. Thursday’s win over Washington State (RPI No. 87) won’t move the ledger much, but it keeps Fagbenle and the Trojans alive and gives them another chance to boost their résumé with a quarterfinal matchup against top-seeded Oregon State on Friday night.
Of course, the Trojans would rather take chance out of the equation and win this tournament outright, something they've done before. Two years ago, the Trojans became the first and only Pac-12 women’s basketball team to win four games in four days to claim the conference tourney crown and subsequent auto-bid for the Big Dance.
“We know what it takes. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves and we want to look towards Oregon State. We know they’re great- they do a lot of great things,” Cooper-Dyke said. “We’re not looking at what we did before, we’re looking at what we have to do now to get the victory.”
For Fagbenle, who transferred to USC to play in the Pac-12, get another highly-esteemed degree and enjoy sunny California, an NCAA tournament berth is still on her to-do list for her final year of eligibility.
“The potential of going to the NCAA tournament is amazing,” Fagbenle said. “That’s obviously my goal. We’re all striving to get there, and we’ll do whatever we can to get there.”