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2021 Pac-12 Women's Basketball Media Day

Tuesday, Oct. 12 | #Pac12WBB
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New USC women's basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb returns to Pac-12 after 'life-changing' opportunity in NBA

Oct 12, 2021
Jenny Chuang

Sitting down for her podium session at Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Media Day, Lindsay Gottlieb quipped, “the conference somehow found a way to get tougher in the two years I’ve been gone.”

Quite frankly, the Pac-12 has probably become even more difficult with her hire at USC. Fresh off a two-year stint as an assistant coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Gottlieb is back in the Pac-12 with a new mindset honed by her time in the NBA.

“It was life-changing. While it was short, it was a chance for me to get out of my comfort zone,” Gottlieb said about her time with the Cavs. “I just had an opportunity to grow in so many ways.”

Gottlieb, who led Cal to its first-ever Final Four during her eight years as head coach of the Golden Bears, was the first NCAA women’s basketball head coach hired by an NBA team when Cleveland came calling. Beyond the technical aspects of coaching in the NBA game, her two years with the Cavaliers gave her an abundance of resources that weren’t on the table before.

As she tries figure out ways to enhance forward Alissa Pili’s game (don’t be surprised if we see #PointPili or Pili playing on the wing some), her NBA pedigree allows her to have conversations like the one she did with Stan Van Gundy about how the different ways he played Zion Williamson when he was coaching the New Orleans Pelicans.

“I also knew I wouldn’t come back unless I felt like I was going to be better,” Gottlieb said. “Sort of version 2.0 of myself so to speak. My mind is expanded, different basketball resources at my disposal, and more just a different mentality and an opportunity to come back and pour into a different group of student-athletes and do some special things.”

For a program that has such a rich tradition in women’s basketball with two NCAA championships and features such legendary players as Cynthia Cooper, Lisa Leslie, Cheryl Miller and Tina Thompson, USC has been on a downswing. The Trojans haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2014 and have only been to the tournament three times since 1997, but a hire like Gottlieb stands to breathe more life back into the program.

The coaching change has already given the Trojans a boost, as Gottlieb was able to hang on to the 13th-ranked recruiting class in the country according to Prospects Nation.

“I feel like the West Coast and really nationally has been waiting for USC to be relevant again,” Gottlieb said. “It’s LA -- it’s the basketball hotbed of the world right now. Our current administration values female athletes and specifically said we want to go and get a coach that we think can make this a championship program.”

There’s a different vibe permeating throughout Galen Center, and with talented players like a fully healthy Alissa Pili, forward Jordan Sanders, and a pair of McDonald’s All-American freshmen Rayah Marshall and Clarice Uche Akunwafo, there is reason to believe the Trojans will be back in the mix before long.

“Workouts have been so much different. Practice has been different,” Pili said. “It’s just a whole different energy for our program.”