Alissa Pili leads USC over Colorado in opening round of Pac-12 tournament
Mark Trakh looks at the five freshmen he has in his rotation and knows the future of USC is bright. But the coach shouldn’t overlook the present either.
Freshmen Alissa Pili and Endyia Rogers led USC to a 69-54 victory over Colorado on Thursday in the first round of the Pac-12 women’s tournament as the seventh-seeded Trojans advanced to the quarterfinals to face No. 2 seed UCLA at 6 p.m. on Friday.
Undaunted by her first taste of postseason play, Pili, the Pac-12 freshman of the year, had 22 points and five rebounds. She was diving on the floor for loose balls from the very first possession. After the forward got the Trojans (17-13) started, it was Rogers who carried them to the end, scoring 11 of her 15 points in the second half.
“Pressure doesn’t mean anything to her,” Trakh said of Rogers.
USC’s Alissa Pili was named Pac-12 freshman of the year Tuesday while UCLA’s Michaela Onyenwere and Japreece Dean were selected along with Pili to the 15-player All-Pac-12 first team.
In a game with seven ties and 11 lead changes, the young Trojans calmly pulled away in the fourth quarter with a 16-5 run in four minutes. Freshmen Pili, Rogers and Alyson Miura scored USC’s first 12 points of the streak.
“They’re used to it,” senior Kayla Overbeck, who had 10 points on five-of-five shooting, said of USC’s freshmen. “They’re ready for it.”
Miura had nine points, making all three of her three-point attempts in the second half. Back-to-back three-pointers late in the third quarter sparked the Trojans as they went from down one to up five in 29 seconds.
Colorado’s Peanut Tuitele had 18 points and seven rebounds as the 10th-seeded Buffaloes (16-14) outscored USC 17-0 in second-chance points. The Trojans fought back by shooting a season-high 61.8% from the field, including a sizzling 75% in the fourth quarter.
Pili extended her streak of double-digit scoring games to 14. Her second game in that run featured 19 points in USC’s dramatic double-overtime win over UCLA on Jan. 17 that ended the Bruins’ 16-game winning streak to open the season.
Now presented with a postseason rematch, Pili responded with the same poise that has defined her debut season at USC.
USC tries to stay optimistic in its underdog role at the Pac-12 tournament with the likes of UCLA and Oregon hovering in front of the Trojans.
“It’s just our time to come out and compete and show why we came here,” the 6-foot forward said.
Trakh acknowledged that facing the Bruins will be a challenge. UCLA didn’t have leading scorer and rebounder Michaela Onyenwere when the teams played in January.
But Trakh also knows USC’s games in Las Vegas won’t be their last this year. The Trojans are in position for an automatic bid to the WNIT as the highest ranked team in the conference standings that won’t be invited to the NCAA tournament. It would be the program’s first postseason tournament since 2013-14.
“As far as I’m concerned, we’re playing with house money right now,” Trakh said chuckling. “We’re just rolling the dice, going out and playing and having fun.”
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