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USC Women's Basketball Carries No. 8 Seed To Vegas For Pac-12 Tournament

Mar 2, 2021

THIS WEEK         
USC shifts focus to tournament action this week, leveling its gaze at a winning run at the 2021 Pac-12 Tournament. The No. 8 seeded Trojans (10-11) will open up with a first-round clash against No. 9 seed Arizona State (11-9) at 2 p.m. on Wednesday (March 3) at Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas. A win there would put USC in the quarterfinals against top seed Stanford at 2 p.m. on Thursday (March 4) to vie for a place in a 5 p.m. semifinal on Friday (March 5). All those games will be televised on Pac-12 Networks. The Pac-12 Championship game is set for 5 p.m. on Sunday (March 7) on ESPN2.

USC is unranked in this week's AP and Coaches polls. As of March 1, USC is No. 79 in the NET rankings.

USC was the No. 7 seed in last year's Pac-12 Tournament, having rounded out the regular season at 16-13 overall and 8-10 in Pac-12 play. The Trojans took on No. 10 seed Colorado in the first round in Las Vegas, claiming a 69-54 win over the Buffs to advance. In the quarterfinals, USC was up against No. 2 seed UCLA. The No. 8-ranked Bruins were able to edge out the Trojans 73-66 to put USC at 17-14 overall. USC was planning on a trip to the 2020 WNIT before competition was canceled around the nation due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As the regular season comes to a close and postseason play appears on the horizon, four members of the USC women's basketball team have landed spots on the All-Pac-12 honor roll for this 2020-21 campaign. Leading the way for the Women of Troy is sophomore guard Endyia Rogers with her first appearance on the All-Pac-12 Team. Additionally, two Trojans stand tall with All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention in sophomore post Alissa Pili and senior forward Jordan Sanders. Meanwhile, true freshman Amaya Oliver has earned a place on the Pac-12 All-Freshman Honorable Mention list. 
    It is the first time since 2012 that USC has had four different players earn Pac-12 honors in the same season (not including Defensive Team selections). In 2012, USC had two All-Pac-12 Team honorees — Ashley Corral and Briana Gilbreath — along with Cassie Harberts earning All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention and Ariya Crook on the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team. 
    Endyia Rogers' 2021 All-Pac-12 Team selection is an upgrade from her Honorable Mention status earned in her freshman campaign. She picked up her first Pac-12 Player of the Week honor last month, and she continues to lead USC in scoring (15.2 points per game), assists (4.1 per game) and 3-pointers (1.6 per game). She matched her career high with a 30-point outing vs. ASU this season, marking one of her 15 double-digit outings so far. Rogers entered her sophomore season with a selection to the Pac-12 Preseason All-Conference Team. 
    In her first season as a Trojan, grad transfer Jordan Sanders quickly made herself known as an impact player. Her All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention accolades are an acknowledgement of that, as she stands as USC's second leading scorer with 11.9 points per game and is the team's sharpshooter from 3-point range with her 46.8 percentage from beyond the arc. She set a career high for herself with five 3-pointers made against Cal in December. Sanders also was USC's first recipient of Pac-12 Player of the Week honors this season. 
    The Pac-12 Freshman of the Year last season, Alissa Pili had her sophomore season delayed in her recovery from injury. But once she got back to the court for the Trojans in mid-January she began turning heads once again, and in doing so has earned her All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention. In her 11 games back in action, Pili is averaging 11.1 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. She's hit double digits in six of USC's last seven games, including a pair of season-high 18-point outings. On Feb. 8, Pili picked up her first career Pac-12 Player of the Week nod. And before the season got underway, she was named to the Pac-12 Preseason All-Conference Team.
    True freshman Amaya Oliver announced her arrival on the collegiate basketball scene with a double-double in her Trojan debut. Freshly bestowed with Pac-12 All-Freshman Honorable Mention, Oliver's athleticism makes her a vital asset in USC's gameplan. She's currently averaging 5.2 points and 4.3 rebounds per game for the Trojans.

For the first time in program history, USC had three different Trojans honored as a conference Player of the Week. With her first career selection as the Pac-12 Player of the Week on Feb. 8, sophomore forward Alissa Pili joined teammates Endyia Rogers and Jordan Sanders as USC's honorees for the award this season. Sidelined with injury until recently, Pili was back to form in the Trojans' trip to Washington, where USC scooped up its first road wins of the season in beating Washington 63-57 and Washington State 81-71. Pili had back-to-back double-digit games on the trip — her first double-digit outings since returning to action. Against the Huskies, Pili led the Trojans with 17 points, and against the Cougars she went one better with 18 points. Pili also was a near-perfect 10-of-11 from the free-throw line in games where foul shots were key. A four-time Pac-12 Freshman of the Week last season, Pili now has her first Pac-12 Player of the Week award. Pili's pick makes it back-to-back weekly awards for USC, as she follows Rogers' selection on Feb. 1.

30 on 31        
Arizona State will be hoping its next meeting with Endyia Rogers is not on Jan. 31. A year to the day apart, Rogers served up 30-point games against the Sun Devils -- first on Jan. 31, 2020 in Tempe and then on Jan. 31, 2021 at Galen Center. In matching her career high of 30 points in this past meeting, Rogers helped the Trojans to victory and also earned herself her first selection as Pac-12 Player of the Week.  The honor made her the second Trojan to earn that award this season, following Jordan Sanders' pick on Dec. 28, and marked the first time since the 2010-11 season that USC has had multiple winners of the conference's Player of the Week award. Rogers was instrumental in USC's 65-57 win over Arizona State, tallying 20 points in the first half to help build a powerful lead for the Trojans over the visiting Sun Devils. Her next 10 points came in the fourth quarter, where she would go 6-for-6 from the free-throw line to keep ASU out of reach. Those last two tosses gave USC an eight-point lead with 18 seconds to go, sealing victory for the Trojans while also tying Rogers' career high of 30 points — set last season. In addition to her game-high 30 points, Rogers led the Trojans with six rebounds and five assists. She also landed four 3-pointers in the game, matching another career high.

As a tumultuous 2020 came to a close, the USC women's basketball team had shown its resilience and resolve in ringing up a shining academic performance in the fall semester. For the first time in at least 10 years, the team has cracked the 3.0 GPA barrier in amassing a 3.01 team cumulative GPA. The notable academic achievement was truly a team effort, with seven Women of Troy finishing the fall with a term GPA of at least 3.0. Among that group, Alissa Pili and Kyra White earned their highest term grades and GPAs of their academic careers. Joining those two in the over-3.0 GPA territory are Shalexxus Aaron, Alyson Miura, Amaya Oliver, India Otto and Jordan Sanders. Shining brightest among the Trojans' academic all-stars is Miura, who leads the pack with a perfect 4.0 semester GPA. Oliver, Otto and White all banked GPAs of 3.5 or better while taking at least 12 units of letter-graded courses, with Oliver shouldering a hefty courseload of 18 units in her first semester as a Trojan. 

The Pac-12 leader in 3-point percentage at the time, Jordan Sanders led USC in scoring in back-to-back Trojan victories and was selected as the Pac-12 Player of the Week on Dec. 28. The grad transfer set new USC scoring highs for herself with 22 points against Cal and 23 versus Long Beach State, while also hitting a career-high five 3-pointers in USC's first Pac-12 win of the season. Sanders followed up her impressive 22-point outing against the Golden Bears — where she was 5-of-7 from 3-point land — with the forward's first career start as a Trojan when USC squared off against the Beach. She would haul in her highest rebound count as a Trojan with eight boards to go along with her season-high 23 points in USC's 71-65 win. Sanders landed two more threes in that game, finishing her week's work averaging 70 percent from beyond the arc. That bumped her season average to 68.2 percent, keeping her solidly atop the Pac-12 leaderboard in 3-point percentage while also lifting her to fifth overall in the nation. Sanders is the first Trojan to earn the honor since Kristen Simon on Dec. 5, 2016. Also on Dec. 28, Sanders was selected as College Sports Madness' Pac-12 Player of the Week. Sanders currently stands as the nation's top 3-point shooter with her 66.7 percent efficiency.

With the return of Alyson Miura (knee) to action on Feb. 5, USC has had all five players who were sidelined at the start of the season return to the court. Shalexxus Aaron (ankle) got her first minutes on Jan. 17 vs. UC Riverside for her first game action since the end of the  2018-19 season. On Jan. 15 vs. WSU, Alissa Pili (ankle) returned to action after 10 games on the sidelines. Zayla Tinner (foot) missed the first three games, making her USC debut on Dec. 13 vs. UCLA. Jordyn Jenkins (knee) missed the first eight games and made her USC debut on Jan. 8 vs. Utah. Madison Campbell missed the last five games with injury (knee) and returned on Feb. 5. Jordan Sanders (concussion protocol) and Angel Jackson (knee) missed the two games and returned Feb. 12. Tinner has missed the last 11 games with injury.

The only true senior on the USC roster this season is grad transfer Jordan Sanders, who has joined the Trojans from UC Irvine. Sanders' presence gives USC its second conference freshman of the year, as Sanders was the Big West's 2018 top freshman while USC's Alissa Pili picked up the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year award last season. Pili and fellow sophomore Endyia Rogers are a proven one-two punch for USC, as the pair were the Trojans' top scorers in 2019-20. Pili and sophomore Angel Jackson packed the paint for the Trojans as freshmen, while sophomore sharpshooters Alyson Miura and India Otto were significant three-point threats, and Kyra White stood tall as a staunch defender and playmaker. That group got great experience as freshmen, making for a shiny sophomore campaign ahead. USC's "veterans" this year are junior Desiree Caldwell and redshirt sophomore Shalexxus Aaron — both captains alongside Pili this season.

NEW CREW        
USC's roster boasts five fresh-faced Trojans making their USC debuts in 2020-21. Jordan Sanders, as mentioned, spent three years at UC Irvine, joining true freshmen Jordyn Jenkins, Amaya Oliver and Zayla Tinner for their first seasons in Cardinal and Gold. Also tabbed for action this season is redshirt freshman Madison Campbell, who is coming off a redshirt season following back surgery last year.

Sophomore strength abounds for the USC women's basketball team this season, with Alissa Pili and Endyia Rogers at the forefront of the Trojans' youth movement. As the 2020-21 campaign drew near, Pili upgraded her national acclaim with a spot on the 2021 Jersey Mike's Naismith Trophy Watch List — recognized as one of the nation's top 50 players in line for the highest collegiate honor bestowed by the Atlanta Tipoff Club. Also Pili and Rogers both picked up spots on the Pac-12 preseason honor roll. The Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and an All-Pac-12 Team honoree last season, Pili finished her debut year ranked in the nation's top-100 in five statistical categories. Already on the 2021 Watch List for the Katrina McClain Award as one of the top 20 small forwards in the land, Pili's placement on the Naismith Trophy Watch List further cements her as the Trojans' top gun and a player to keep a close eye on as her career continues to blossom. Pili's power has been well-known in the Pac-12 conference, and as her sophomore year unfurls the Trojan post has earned her place on the Pac-12 Preseason All-Conference Team. Fellow sophomore Rogers — USC's second leading scorer and top 3-point shooter last year — picked up Pac-12 Preseason All-Conference Honorable Mention. 

VOTE ON        
Amidst a tumultuous summer, the USC women's basketball team found a powerful way to set a course for themselves away from the gym. All 13 Women of Troy registered to vote, marking an important benchmark for the program as the 2020 elections approach. What's more, their action helped spark a department-wide initiative that was embraced by USC Athletics' Black Lives Matter Action Team to challenge every USC team to reach 100 percent registration for eligible U.S. voters. Thanks to their 2020 registration, USC women's basketball was able to have a voice in elections in five different states — Alaska, California, Oregon, Texas and Washington — in the 2020 elections and beyond. 

USC gets another boost in the backcourt with the addition of transfer Shemera Williams. After a season played at Virginia, Williams officially became a Trojan this spring 2021. The state of Wisconsin's second leading scorer in girls high school basketball history with 3,120 career points, the Milwaukee Academy of Science product went on to average 8.9 points and 2.6 rebounds in her freshman campaign with the Cavaliers. A 5-8 guard, Williams was Virginia's third leading scorer as a freshman in 2019-20 and was a two-time ACC Freshman of the Week while also picking up national honors as a USBWA Tamika Catchings Freshman Player of the Week. Williams joined the USC roster as of January 2021, with her eligibility for competition pending NCAA transfer rules.

USC welcomes a pair of powerful local products who combine forces as the nation's No. 7-ranked recruiting class according to ESPN. The No. 2-ranked center in the country, Clarice Uche Akunwafo comes to Troy from nearby Inglewood, Calif. ESPN's No. 27-ranked player in the land, guard/forward Rayah Marshall is a Los Angeles native. Both new Trojans signed their national letters of intent on  Nov. 11. Both Akunwafo and Marshall also were recently named to the Watch List for the 2021 Jersey Mike's Naismith Trophy for High School Girls Player of the Year. A 6-6- center, Clarice Uche Akunwafo averaged 20.1 points, 12.7 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game at Rolling Hills Prep. The Inglewood native also shot 56 percent from the floor and is a two-time All-CIF honoree. Her power at the post has earned her the nod as the No. 2 center in the nation and No. 21 player overall, according to ESPN. A Los Angeleno and another All-CIF regular, Rayah Marshall ranks No. 27 in the nation among this class of prospects. The 6-4 guard/forward hails from nearby Lynwood High, where she averaged 18.1 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and 2.4 steals per game. On February 23, both Akunwafo and Marshall were named McDonald's All-Americans, bringing USC's total of Trojans to earn such honors to 16. It's just the second time that USC will have two incoming true freshman winners of the award. USC's other current McDonald's All-American is Angel Jackson.

LAST SEASON            
USC's postseason plans of a 2020 WNIT run were dashed back in March with the cancellation of all competition due to the pandemic. That left the Trojans with a 17-14 overall record, having reached the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 Tournament as the No. 7 seed. USC's top scorer and rebounder, Alissa Pili was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, earning a spot on the All-Pac-12 Team. Fellow freshman Endyia Rogers picked up All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention after standing as USC's second leading scorer. USC lost three seniors from that roster in Aliyah Jeune, Kayla Overbeck and Stephanie Watts. •