It was exactly the kind of tournament nightmare USC had hoped to avoid. The good news, though, is that it came in the conference tournament and not the NCAA Tournament.
The Trojans lost to Oregon State, 56-48, in the first round of the Pac-12 Women’s Basketball Tournament in Las Vegas on Wednesday night. If you know anything about USC women’s hoops, you know the Trojans play great defense. They don’t usually send opponents to the foul line. They also struggle to score.
Therefore, if you were to imagine a worst-case scenario for USC in the one-and-done, single-elimination context of March tournament basketball, it would go something like this:
USC’s erratic offense failed to produce consistently good looks at the basket and endured several prolonged droughts.
USC panicked under tournament pressure and didn’t handle big moments well, in marked contrast to the balance of the regular season.
USC’s “defend without fouling” formula on defense was undermined by a tight whistle in a tournament setting, and by a lack of attention to detail.
All of those descriptions actually applied to USC’s loss versus Oregon State, which sends the Trojans home and gives them two weeks to work on their limitations before the NCAA Tournament begins.
In tournament basketball, great defensive teams hope they aren’t constrained by a tight whistle. It’s not a case of bad officiating so much as a certain standard of officiating catching a team by surprise.
USC allowed just five free throw attempts to Oregon State in the first three quarters. It’s why the Trojans had a three-point lead after three quarters despite shooting under 35 percent. However, in the fourth quarter, Oregon State made 15 free throws. The Trojans didn’t allow many field goals. The Beavers made a parade to the foul line and won the game there. For the game, they were plus-14 in points scored on foul shots (19-5).
USC defensive stopper Rayah Marshall fouled out with 1:53 left on a hand-checking foul. Technically, according to the rule, the foul was legitimate and could have been called. However, a lot of those kinds of fouls aren’t called during games and weren’t called in the first three quarters of this particular game.
The lesson, though, for Marshall and USC: Don’t hand-check and give the referee a valid reason to make the call. The Trojans saw how a failure to adjust to the style of officiating can bring them down in a single-elimination situation.
Meanwhile, the Trojans shot just 29 percent from the field, with Destiny Littleton and Okako Adika combining to hit just 4 of 20 3-point shots. USC committed 15 turnovers and gave away entirely too many possessions on a night when the Trojans suffered several crippling scoring droughts.
All these failures occurred in a single-elimination tournament. The Trojans simply can’t continue to play with fire. They got burned.