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USC hires Cleveland Cavaliers assistant Lindsay Gottlieb as women’s basketball coach

California head coach Lindsay Gottlieb raises her hands
USC names former California coach and Cleveland Cavaliers assistant coach Lindsay Gottlieb as women’s basketball coach.
(Sean Rayford / Associated Press)

In a first step toward restoring its once-illustrious women’s basketball program, USC poached its next coach from the NBA ranks.

Cleveland Cavaliers assistant Lindsay Gottlieb was named USC’s newest women’s hoops coach, the school announced Monday. She’ll replace Mark Trakh, who retired late last month, four years into his second stint with the Trojans.

Gottlieb broke barriers in 2019, becoming the first head women’s college basketball coach to be hired by an NBA team when she left California to be an assistant with the Cavaliers. Less than two years later, she’ll take the reins of a program that has fallen precipitously from its once-proud standing in women’s college hoops, having earned just one NCAA tournament berth during the last 15 seasons.

USC athletic director Mike Bohn called Gottlieb “a trailblazer who smashed through the glass ceiling of men’s professional sports.”

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“We have the utmost confidence in her ability to lead the Women of Troy back to national prominence,” Bohn said in a statement.

USC defeated UCLA 3-1 to win the NCAA beach volleyball title for the third time on Sunday in Gulf Shores, Ala.

Gottlieb’s return to the college ranks suggests a renewed commitment from the university to its women’s basketball program, which endured more than a decade of stagnancy under the previous two athletic administrations. USC hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2014, when the Trojans were bounced in the first round under former coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, who never made it back to the tournament.

The Trojans’ last tournament win came during Trakh’s first stint as coach, when he led USC to first-round victories in 2005 and 2006. But Trakh missed the postseason in each of his next three seasons, before leaving USC for personal reasons. He returned in 2017 to replace Cooper-Dyke, but had similarly middling results, winning 19 games in his first season and steadily declining from there.

Last month, in a statement announcing his retirement, Trakh called the program’s current status “a perfect time for a transition in the Trojan basketball program.”

“I can’t imagine a more optimal time for all of us to embrace a fresh start,” he wrote in a statement.

Gottlieb, 43, didn’t waste any time rebuilding during her last stint as a Pac-12 coach. At California, where she first served as an assistant from 2006-08, Gottlieb immediately established herself as one of college basketball’s rising young coaches, winning 179 games and taking the Bears to seven NCAA tournaments in eight seasons from 2012-19. In 2014, her second season at the helm, Gottlieb led Cal to a shared Pac-12 title and a Final Four berth.

Ten former USC Song Girls described to The Times a toxic culture within the famed collegiate dance team that included longtime former coach Lori Nelson rebuking women publicly for their eating habits, personal appearance and sex lives.

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It’s been nearly three decades since USC’s women’s hoops program reached similar heights. In a statement, Gottlieb saida renewed commitment to rebuild the previously elite program was a factor in her decision to return to college basketball.

“I went to the NBA to challenge myself at the highest levels of the game of basketball and was fully invested in that journey,” Gottlieb said. “However, the commitment of President Carol Folt and athletic director Mike Bohn to women’s basketball at USC, and to my vision of success, made it clear that NOW is the right time to come here and use all my coaching experience to partner with the young women in the program, the administration and our future student-athletes to make USC women’s basketball the most dynamic program in the country.”


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