The Women of Troy (21-12, 11-7) showcased a team-oriented effort from the very start of the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals. Senior forward Cassie Harberts was quick to point out that her team has finally arrived, following a 72-68 victory over the Stanford Cardinal.
"You know, just a win over the No. 3 team in the nation," Harberts said in sarcastic, yet relieved nature understanding the significance of the moment. "But ya, I think it helps (our tournament chances)."
After defeating No. 4 seed Arizona State in two-point fashion on Friday, the Women of Troy were looking to continue their magical Pac-12 Tournament run against a program that had never missed the conference championship game. That will change Sunday night, as USC, rather than the Cardinal, will play for the title.
The Trojans were extremely elated following an emotional game from Key Arena in Seattle.
"We just grinded and grinded and gave everything that we had," Harberts told Pac-12 Networks shortly following a game that required every ounce of effort her team could provide on both ends of the court.
Cassie Harberts, who led the team this season averaging 17.3 PPG in conference play, was kept in single digits all night long until it mattered most in what could have been her final game. Not wanting to end her career on a losing note, the senior dug deep for inspired play on the offensive end; complementing her teammates' fantastic efforts.
After the Cardinal went on an impressive 8-0 run to regain the lead by three, the Women of Troy let their best player carry the program to a crucial victory. The win not only secures USC's place in the Pac-12 championship game, but also adds to what already looks like an impressive NCAA Tournament resume featuring four top-25 victories.
Down the homestretch, Harberts scored 10 straight points, including two and-one buckets underneath the rim giving USC the 67-60 lead with only 1:33 left in the game. But after fouling out with 22 seconds left, Harberts needed her teammates to secure one final stop on the defensive end to secure victory because Stanford (once again) came storming back.
The defense was stout in the closing moments, forcing Pac-12 Player of the Year Chiney Ogwumike to chuck up a desperation three-point shot. Brianna Barrett secured one of USC's 32 defensive rebounds on the night, then hit one of two free throw attempts to put the game officially out of reach.
One of the biggest reasons why USC was in position for the upset was the play of junior forward Alexyz Vaioletama. "X" as known by her coaches and teammates, recorded an impressive double-double (19 points, 15 rebounds) while dynamic point guard Ariya Crook scored 15 of her points on 3-6 shooting from behind the arc.
Not only were teammates stepping up all over the court, but the Women of Troy only committed seven turnovers and recorded more assists than the Cardinal on the night. All that being said, the Cardinal put on a dominant display when Chiney Ogwumike scored 17 second-half points by controlling the offensive glass down low.
In the third meeting between these Pac-12 rivals, defense kept them close and clutch shots in the paint sealed the upset victory. The first time these two teams met USC was red hot, winners of nine of their last 10 games, but were run right out of Maples Pavilion after going back and forth with the Queens of the Pac-12 for the first 10 minutes.
Back on February 21, the Women of Troy controlled Stanford from the first tip from the Galen Center, leading 31-13 with just seven minutes remaining in the first half. Stanford would then go an incredible run to close the half trailing by just seven, yet USC still held control of the game until the Cardinal took the lead for good with 11:39 to play.
USC understood it was one statement victory away from securing a trip to the NCAA Tournament and this performance showcases all the greatest qualities of March Madness College Basketball. Now you should be asking what did it look like to beat a top-five Stanford squad, and can the Women of Troy win again on Sunday night?
TWEETS THAT SAY IT ALL
@USCWBB now that is what I am talking about!— USC Men's Tennis (@USCMensTennis) March 9, 2014
And yes, we have to bring up the last time USC upset a top 5 Stanford team. http://t.co/JbT15XYWn9— Jeremy Fuster (@jeremyfuster) March 9, 2014