2021-22 USC Women's Basketball Season Outlook: Lindsay Gottlieb Era Begins
The science of success is a complex field. Fortunately, the USC women's basketball program has a special kind of scientist hard at work concocting a working formula for a new realm at Troy. The 2021-22 USC roster, helmed by new head coach and basketball scientist extraordinaire Lindsay Gottlieb, is teeming with talent and balance — ingredients that Gottlieb is eager to formulate into a competitive and successful program.
"We have depth and versatility in ways that are exciting to me," Gottlieb said. "I have to go into my mad scientist mode to figure out how to use everyone effectively and turn what we have into a winning basketball team. I'm also excited that they are so bought in and willing to be pushed to reach a level we haven't reached yet."
The USC women have fallen short of the NCAA Tournament field for the past seven seasons while competing in arguably the most competitive women's basketball conference in the land. Fortunately, Gottlieb gleaned plenty of experience navigating the Pac-12 and beyond while at the helm of the California program. Following that, her two years as an assistant coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA served to broaden both her gamesmanship and her passion for player development. Now the leader of the Women of Troy, Gottlieb and her staff are set on securing an upward trajectory for the USC program.
"We want to really learn how to be an elite team that plays winning basketball," Gottlieb said. "There's been pieces of that and surges in the past, but we haven't put together consistent winning seasons. We want to be the team that's the toughest, most prepared and selfless."
— USC Women's Basketball (@USCWBB) October 7, 2021
When it comes to toughness. Look no further than junior Alissa Pili. The Pac-12 Freshman of the Year in 2020, Pili is one of the strongest and most versatile posts in the nation. She is the linchpin for the Trojans, with a talented array of skilled posts also tagged for time in the paint. Length will not be a problem for USC this season, with 6-foot-5 junior Angel Jackson joined by two highly anticipated freshmen in 6-6 Clarice Uche Akunwafo and 6-4 Rayah Marshall. Meanwhile, athletic sophomore Jordyn Jenkins turned heads as a freshman, adding extra punch to the paint.
"Alissa is a unique player and can do a lot of things. I think she deserves more national attention," Gottlieb said of Pili. "So we start from there. We've got a front court that can come at you in different ways. We have size in Clarice and Angel, and versatility with Rayah, Jordyn and Alissa. The young post players are really talented, but I also see great potential for growth trajectory. They have pro potential, and we want to get them there."
The veteran status largely belongs to the backcourt. Senior Desiree Caldwell has been a devoted and reliable runner of the point, while grad student Jordan Sanders and grad transfer Tera Reed offer up extensive experience as well. USC's second leading scorer last year, Sanders returns for a second season at USC, bringing back her incredible 3-point accuracy and versatility. A transfer from VCU, Reed is poised, savvy and skilled. And when it comes to bringing up the ball, Caldwell can also confidently give way to junior Kyra White, redshirt sophomore Alyson Miura and true freshman Bella Perkins.
"There aren't many players with more minutes and reps than Desi. She's a true leader who has wanted to create a winning atmosphere here. She's dialed in. It's really important when you have a senior point guard with that mentality," Gottlieb said of Caldwell. "Tera has been a great addition. She's a mature player who just wanted to come here and help us win. With Sanders and Tera, we really have veterans in the back court we rely on. Jordan is unique in how she gets her shot off and makes the reads. She's the first one you talk about with shot-making capability."
Which brings us to USC's perimeter firepower. Sanders clearly stands out as the foremost 3-point threat for the Trojans, but there are plenty of others who wield hot hands. Caldwell, Miura and Madison Campbell combined for 44 threes landed last season. Perkins and Reed, meanwhile, are poised to add to that arsenal in their first seasons at USC. But don't count out the Trojan posts. Pili has shown her range in the past, and there's plenty of others with the ability to extend their attack.
"We have to be able to shoot the ball to win as many games as we want to win. A number of players are 3-point threats," Gottlieb said. "You hope we're able to just get good looks from all over the floor. We want to be knocking down threes and getting to the paint off the dribble or through our posts."
The ingredients are there. The preparation is in place. Now it's just time to bring things to a boil for this 2021-22 season.