March 7, 2003
SAN JOSE, Calif. - If the first game of the second Pacific-10 Conference Women's Basketball Tournament is any indication, this will be one event to remember.
On would have been hard pressed to think that the opening game would be anything but a blowout between the 10th seeded Washington State Cougars the No. 7 seed USC Women of Troy.
That is because in the team's two previous meeting this season, the Women of Troy outscored the Cougars 181-80 including a 89-36 win, Feb. 1, the worst loss in WSU history.
That didn't mean much to WSU however, as the team took USC to the brink before falling 53-46 Friday at the HP Pavilion.
Bianca McCall, who was named an All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention selection Thursday, recorded her ninth double-double of the season with 12 points and 11 rebounds and led a trio of Cougars who scored double figures in points. Jessica Perry (12 points) and Lindsey Egeland (10 points) completed the contingent. Ebony Hoffman led USC with 17 points and 20 rebounds.
"This was a tough one," said WSU Coach Sherri Murrell. "I think anybody who was watching in the stands tonight wouldn't have thought we were 2-26. I feel good about our effort tonight - I don't feel good about losing - but I'm proud of them. So many teams would have given up before this game and our kids didn't."
It was not the prettiest of games to watch as both teams combined to shoot 26-of-115 from the field (31.3 percent) and 42 turnovers. But for sheer drama, it couldn't have been matched.
Down 30-25 at the half, a pair of McCall free throws pulled WSU to 30-27 just over a minute into the second half. Each team traded buckets to make the score 32-29 in USC's favor with 17:58 remaining.
It stayed that way for the next 4:18 as neither team could make a dent on the scoreboard. The drought was broken on an Emma Joneby free throw at the 13:40 mark to cut USC's lead to 32-30.
A Perry bucket gave the Cougars their first tie of the game at 32 with 13:07 left but USC immediately regained the lead on a Hoffman bucket at the 12:47 mark.
That pattern would repeat itself twice more as the Cougars tied the game at 34 and 38 but each time USC recaptured the lead on its next possession.
After the third tie at 38, it seemed that USC finally took control as it scored five straight points to take a 43-38 lead with 7:22 remaining.
But WSU would not fold and went on a 6-0 run, which was capped by a Jami Clevenger bucket, to take its first lead of the game at 44-43 at the 4:53 mark.
But it turned out to be the only lead WSU would enjoy as USC outscored the Cougars 10-2 the rest of the way to capture the win.
"In the second half we saw the lead slip and we got further away but at the same time we came right back," said McCall. "It's frustrating that we lost, but we played hard and I'm really proud of my teammates."
"My hat's really off to WSU," said USC Coach Chris Gobrecht. "They really played their hearts out. For a team to come out after having been beaten twice as badly as they were beaten by us and put that kind of effort - that's just a great job by those kids for staying with it and a great job by Sherri Murrell keeping them believing in what they're doing."
The Women of Troy scored six of the game's first seven points as WSU struggled from the field missing its first nine shots.
A McCall field goal at the 14:32 mark broke the Cougars' drought and closed the deficit to 6-3. After USC extended its advantage to 9-3, WSU pulled to within two at 9-7 with 11:58 remaining.
Down 15-8, WSU used a 6-1 run to once again slice its deficit to two at 16-14 with 6:33 left. Up 18-16, USC used an 8-2 run to take its largest lead of the half at 26-18 with 2:20 left. However, the Cougars responded with a 7-2 run of its own, which was capped by a Perry three-point play, to close the gap to 28-25 with 58 seconds left. USC scored the final bucket to end the first half up 30-25.
WSU was within five despite making 8-of-30 attempts including two of its first 14 shots. In addition, USC out-rebounded the Cougars by 11 (30-19) but what kept the Cougars in striking distance were eight steals and 11 USC turnovers.
The .328 shooting percentage by USC was the second worst effort by a Cougar opponent this season (Montana, Dec.14, 30.4 percent).
"Our defense was incredible tonight," said Murrell. "The problem was that we shoot 26 percent in the first half and just got out-rebounded."