USC last played in the NCAA women's basketball tournament in 2006.
It's a streak of frustration that first-year Trojans Coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke intends to end, but it might take another season unless the Trojans can put together an impressive run in the Pac-12 Conference tournament that begins Thursday at KeyArena in Seattle.
Fifth-seeded USC, which finished the regular-season 18-12, plays 12th-seeded Arizona (5-24) in a first-round game at 2:30.
Cooper-Dyke, who played for USC national championship teams in 1983 and 1984, acknowledged that her team is "right on the bubble."
"We're in position to still make the [NCAA] tournament," Cooper-Dyke said. "That's where we wanted to be."
Fourth-ranked Stanford (28-2) is seeded first, No. 20 California (21-8) second, Oregon State (21-9) third and Arizona State (22-8) fourth. All have first-round byes.
The winner of the tournament secures the conference's automatic bid in the NCAA tournament.
Eighth-seeded UCLA (13-17), which has been plagued by injuries, plays ninth-seeded Colorado (16-13) on Thursday in the tournament opener at noon. The Bruins are led by senior forward Atonye Nyingifa, a two-time all-conference player who has averaged 19 points and 8.9 rebounds. All-conference sophomore guard Nirra Fields has averaged 17.3 points.
USC showed marked improvement under Cooper-Dyke, who replaced Michael Cooper after the Trojans finished 11-20 overall and 7-11 in conference play last season.
Senior forward Cassie Harberts, a two-time all-conference player, is averaging 16.2 points and 7.5 rebounds for the Trojans. Guard Ariya Crook has averaged 15.8 points.
The Trojans lost consecutive games against Oregon State, Stanford and Cal before finishing the regular season with victories at Utah and Colorado.
USC probably needs victories over Arizona, Arizona State and in a possible semifinal against Stanford to ensure an NCAA tournament bid.
"We've got to get at least a couple wins," Cooper-Dyke said. "Making it to the semifinals and possibly the finals will give us a better chance."
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