Saturday, May 18, 2024

No. 12 UCLA women’s basketball looks to sweep rival USC

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Rivalry week comes at an interesting time for Los Angeles’ Pac-12 women’s basketball teams.

Sunday’s 2 p.m. game between USC and No. 12 UCLA at Pauley Pavilion could have implications in competitive conference standings and, additionally, it’s unclear whether both teams’ top scorers will play.

“The chance to play UCLA gets the juices flowing because it’s important in the Pac-12 standings more than anything else,” USC coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “It’s a chance for us to play a top 15 team and it’s also a chance to have some pride in the L.A. rivalry.”

UCLA sits in a four-way tie for second place in the Pac-12 with its 2-1 conference record. USC is tied with four teams at 1-2 for third. The former is coming off a win over Oregon and a loss to Oregon State, while the latter beat Oregon State and lost to Oregon.

Both teams were without their leading scorers in their respective losses. The Trojan’s Kadi Sissoko (15.3 ppg) is day to day with an undisclosed injury and the Bruins’ Charisma Osborne’s has a “50-50” chance of playing due to a shoulder injury, according to UCLA coach Cori Close.

USC still has its best asset in Rayah Marshall, a sophomore who was named Pac-12 Player of the Week on Jan. 2 after recording her fifth consecutive double-double. The guard/forward, valuable on both sides of the court, ranks seventh in the nation in double-doubles with eight this season.

The 6-foot-4 former Lynwood High star is also third in the country with 38 blocks, 15th with 10.8 offensive rebounds per game and 16th with 7.7 defensive rebounds per game.

The Trojans will likely lean on Marshall as they seek to pressure the Bruins, who held off a Trojans fourth-quarter surge for a 59-56 victory Dec. 15 at the Galen Center.

“We expect her to kind of anchor us defensively and then Kayla (Williams), our point guard, starts us off with putting a ton of pressure on the ball,” Gottlieb said, “but we really need it to be an effort from everyone on the floor because UCLA is so talented.”

Osborne, who can score but is also a powerful defender, left the Oregon game after sustaining a shoulder sprain in the fourth quarter. The Bruins won that game with a next-woman-up mentality, but dropped the next one 77-72 to the Beavers.

“We practice every day with different lineups and are able to really just play off each other’s strengths and then also just overly communicate on defense,” guard Gina Conti said of how the Bruins will work if Osborne is out.

Conti came up big against Oregon State with 19 points and six assists. The graduate student leads the team with 59 assists (4.2 per game) after sitting last season out with injury. It’s her first season seeing game action for UCLA after transferring from Wake Forest.

Others who have carved out roles for themselves this season include freshmen Kiki Rice and Londynn Jones as well as Emily Bessoir and Camryn Brown.

Rice averages the most minutes out of all Pac-12 freshmen and is second on the team in scoring (13.4 ppg) and assists (49). Jones scored a season-high 17 points in the loss in Corvallis. Bessoir led the Bruins with 16 points in the victory over USC and is second on the team in rebounds (5.0 rpg).

Brown has logged career-highs in rebounds, assists and steals this season, but her real value comes in the form of intangibles.

“She’s our coach on the floor, and it’s very rare that you have a coach say that about a forward,” Close said.

Sunday’s contest could be another close one after UCLA handed USC its first loss in 10 games, and the value of a conference win keeps rising as the season goes on.

“Every single win is vital,” Close said. “We’re trying to stay focused on being champions of the weekend. And in this case, champion of the weekend is beating USC on Sunday.”

USC (11-3, 1-2) at No. 12 UCLA (13-2, 2-1)

When: 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: Pauley Pavilion

TV: Pac-12 Network

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