How USC girls’s basketball constructed finest protection in program historical past

Lindsay Gottlieb knew her protection was good. But she didn’t understand how good.

Allowing simply 54.8 factors per sport, USC is on tempo to have the perfect scoring protection in this system’s NCAA historical past. Gottlieb, the group’s second-year coach, raised her eyebrows and nodded in modest approval when she heard the actual fact.

The group’s protection is an ideal mixture of personnel, planning and keenness. It’s why the No. 8 seed Trojans are again within the NCAA event for the primary time since 2014. They open their event run in opposition to No. 9 South Dakota State at 5 p.m. in Blacksburg, Va., on Friday. The sport can be televised on ESPNews.

It’s extra than simply hustle and coronary heart behind USC’s Pac-12-leading protection that ranks 18th within the nation. Calling the artwork of protection simply power is an insult by affiliate head coach Beth Burns’ requirements.

“There’s a method to our madness,” the employees’s defensive chief stated.

In the primary 12 months below Gottlieb, the Trojans allowed 64.7 factors per sport, which ranked a hundred and fifty fifth within the nation. After the season, Gottlieb evaluated this system to begin its rebuild in earnest. The first step was reloading on expertise via the switch portal.

Seven gamers joined, together with 4 that cracked the beginning lineup. Kayla Williams, who earned Big West all-defensive group honors at UC Irvine final season, units the tone on the prime of the protection.

The Bishop Montgomery alumna jumped on the alternative to come back to USC this season. The undersized, 5-foot-7 guard bought curiosity from the earlier USC teaching employees popping out of highschool however by no means an official provide. Instead, she received Big West Freshman of the Year whereas at Irvine and earned all-conference first-team honors in back-to-back years.

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Having proved herself at UCI, Williams is motivated to make her mark for her hometown faculty, beginning on the defensive finish.

“If I get a taller person on me, a lot of people don’t think I can defend them well, so I take that personally,” Williams stated. “I feel like I have a lot to prove on the defensive end and I know what I can do so it’s just about honestly proving people wrong.”

On-ball stress is the muse of USC’s protection, Burns stated. With Williams urgent on the level of assault, the Trojans hope to funnel opponents into the paint.

That’s Rayah Marshall’s area.

The sophomore who was named to the Pac-12 all-defensive group is the nation’s second-leading shotblocker with 3.37 per sport. Her 91 blocks are third in USC’s single-season historical past and simply 4 behind Lisa Leslie’s all-time document.

Along with Marshall, the Trojans have 6-foot-2 Minnesota switch Kadi Sissoko, and 6-foot Okako Adika, a switch from Texas Christian. The pair has size and switchability. Point guard Destiny Littleton is without doubt one of the group’s smartest gamers, Burns stated, and is all the time in place to name out performs.

The group is “built as well as you can be built,” Gottlieb stated.

But even with the personnel in place, it took Burns time to know her gamers’ capabilities. She didn’t be part of the employees till June and the Trojans spent a number of weeks in the course of the summer season simply engaged on basic defensive expertise.

“When I started, it was like speaking a different language,” stated Burns, the winningest head coach in San Diego State historical past who led the Aztecs to seven NCAA event appearances in 15 seasons. “They thought I was crazy.”

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Williams’ first impression of Burns was that the coach was “old-school and tough.”

“Tough, tough, tough,” the Pac-12 all-defensive group honorable point out repeats with a smile.

That toughness extends to her gamers, who’re motivated to hold Burns’ defensive gospel onto the court docket.

“She doesn’t take a play off,” Williams stated. “So she doesn’t allow us to take a play off. And that’s what makes us play for 40 minutes.”

USC stays locked in on protection even when its offense struggles. The Trojans have shot worse than 30% from the sector in 4 of their final 5 video games, however nonetheless received two of these poor-shooting video games. Cashing in on the group’s defensive success by changing on offense was a key speaking level after a 56-47 loss to Oregon State within the first spherical of the Pac-12 event, Burns stated.

But the veteran coach is aware of offense could be fickle in March. Courts are all of the sudden lined in particular NCAA branding and reporters and TV cameras pack information conferences. The scene could be particularly nerve-wracking for groups that lack expertise on the massive stage.

Littleton, who helped South Carolina to a nationwide championship final season, is aware of the way it goes. She additionally is aware of the worth of protection throughout March after the Gamecocks allowed 45.5 factors per sport within the event final 12 months, the second-lowest mark in historical past.

“You can’t really control if the ball goes in the hoop, but you can control what you do on defense,” Littleton stated. “Ultimately, who gets the most stops wins the game.”

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