USC’s unexpected romp through the Pac-12 created a national spotlight for the conference. It plays at No. 4 Stanford (18-1, 7-0 Pac-12) on Monday at 6pm PT on ESPN2. The Trojans (14-6, 7-1) are a half-game behind the Cardinal in conference standings.
The matchup between the Pac-12′s best was solidified after USC upset No. 19 Cal, 77-70, on Friday. Junior PG Ariya Crook scored a career-high 34 points while senior F Cassie Harberts added 15 points and 10 rebounds in the win.
Of course the reality check in the showdown is the fact Stanford has won its past 12 games against USC, is on a 17-game win streak, is playing at home and currently beating conference opponents by 26 points. Oh, and senior F Chiney Ogwumike has racked up nine games scoring 30-points or more this season with 14 double-doubles overall.
Naturally Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer wants more.
“I was upset with how casual people were with the ball,” the Hall of Famer said after Stanford beat UCLA, 72-55, on Friday. “We were kind of like a fighter who waited until we got a bloody nose before we started fighting.”
Despite the history between the schools, USC is the best storyline to open Pac-12 play. Hall of Famer Cynthia Cooper-Dyke is in her first year coaching the team. She has immediately breathed new life into the program she initially put in the spotlight in the 1980s by winning two NCAA championships.
And no one believed before the season Cooper-Dyke’s team would be in this position so soon. USC was picked to finish sixth in the conference in the coaches’ poll and media poll, making yet another claim to ditch season outlooks before a game is played. Not that my revised predictions fared any better after the nonconference schedule completed. Probably should have took Cooper-Dyke’s win at UCLA in December — never losing at Pauley Pavilion as a player or coach — as a sign.
The Cal upset appears to be the validation victory, however. USC’ first win against a ranked opponent since 2011 was earlier this month when it defeated then-No. 12 Colorado 55-45 at home. But the Buffaloes have since dropped out of the polls, looking to be overrated. CU (12-6, 2-5) used a home win on Friday against last-place Arizona (4-14, 0-7) to snap its four-game losing streak.
Cooper-Dyke’s return to USC started with a 3-0 start, its best since the 1998-99 season. USC defeated San Diego State 65-61 to secure the win but then lost three straight to ranked teams by an average of 21.3 points.
Harberts adjusting to Cooper-Dyke’s new system buoyed the Trojans’ in Pac-12 Conference play. Harberts, the reigning conference player of the week, is averaging 17.7 points and 7.7 rebounds in USC’s seven Pac-12 games. Crook and F Alexyz Vaioletama carried the Trojans through nonconference play. Crook was the team’s leading scorer in eight of its 12 nonconference games while Vaioletama was USC’s leading rebounder in eight of the 12 matchups, the Trojans heading into the Pac-12 schedule with a 7-5 record.
“She’s been a tremendous change for us,” Harberts told Pac-12 Networks of Cooper-Dyke after Friday’s win. “We’ve done so well, I just hope we continue.”
Monday’s national broadcast has another twist in Hall of Famer Bill Walton on the call with Olympian Rebecca Lobo. Dave Pasch will offer the play-by-play. The game is part of ESPN2′s “Big Monday” lineup. The first game features No. 2 Notre Dame at No. 6 Maryland on the station at 4pm PT.