The USC Trojans, playing their fourth game in as many days Sunday, appeared to be running on fumes as they struggled to keep up with the Oregon State Beavers in the first half of the championship game at the Pac-12 women’s basketball tournament.
Cynthia Cooper, the hyper-intense coach of the Trojans, decided the best way to deal with her players’ weary legs was to apply full-court pressure in the second half.
“I know they were looking at me crazy like, ‘Coach is crazy,’” Cooper said.
Crazy like a fox, it turned out. The Trojans rattled the young Beavers with the press and quickly erased a seven-point halftime deficit en route to a 71-62 victory before 4,785 fans at KeyArena.
“I thought the press was the difference in the game,” Cooper said. “I thought we were slow and lethargic and really played Oregon State’s pace in the first half.
“I thought we mentally were trying to figure out if we had enough energy to finish this thing out.”
The fifth-seeded Trojans (22-12) snapped Oregon State’s 11-game winning streak and earned the Pac-12’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Oregon State (23-10) appears likely to draw an at-large invitation when the tournament field is announced Monday.
USC’s 42 points in the second half tied a season high for points in one half by an Oregon State opponent. The third-seeded Beavers are known for defense and 3-point shooting, but they hit just 1 of 10 shots from 3-point range in the second half against the Trojans.
“USC is a great team, and they earned the championship,” OSU freshman point guard Sydney Wiese said. “It (losing) hurts, and it’s going to burn today. But we have to get back to work tomorrow.”
Oregon State coach Scott Rueck said the Beavers’ inexperience “may have” played a role in their second-half collapse. OSU has just two upperclassmen.
Sophomore forward Deven Hunter led Oregon State with 19 points and 11 rebounds. USC junior guard Ariya Crook topped USC with 16 points.
Crook, voted the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player by media, was joined on the all-tournament squad by teammate Cassie Harberts, Oregon State’s Wiese and Ruth Hamblin, Stanford’s Chiney Ogwumike and Washington State’s Lia Galdeira.