The spirits have changed, the emotion is back and right from the start of the season, USC women's basketball (11-6) is feeling the effects of the change in its coaching staff.
Cynthia Cooper-Dyke has transformed the program into an immediate contender, and a large part of that success comes from the intensity exhibited by the players on the court, which stems straight down from their passionate head coach.
After falling to Saint Mary's back on December 19th, USC has stepped its play up to another level by winning six of its last seven games. That can be thanks in large part to their play on the defensive end of the floor, which ranks third in the Pac-12 allowing just over 62.3 points per game on the year,
This improvement comes while recently playing without the services of starters Kiki Alofaituli and Ariya Crook, who have both been sidelined by injuries.
Cooper-Dyke has emphasized effort and tenacity on the defensive end from day one, and the Trojans' team-oriented play speaks to how deep and talented this roster can be when placed in the right position along with proper motivation. The players speak of her as a general, but also understand what it takes to do things right thanks to Cooper-Dyke's hands-on approach.
The contributions have come from all over the roster, with the largest efforts coming from some of the newest Trojans in Alabama transfer Kaneisha Horn along with freshman guard Courtney Jaco.
In the last five games, Jaco has doubled her season average in scoring (5.4 PPG), while Horn has filled a much-needed shooting role for the Women of Troy, connecting on 40-percent of her shots from behind the arc.
The usual suspect Cassie Harberts (Wooden All-American Watch List) has played well this season averaging over 14 PPG while shooting 43 percent from the field, and the team-wide contribution has only made her game more effective.
Things have certainly been clicking to this point, but the Women of Troy must now avoid falling victim to some staggering trends from last season.
After starting conference play on an equally impressive 4-0 clip, USC lost 11 of their next 12 games, effectively sucking the life out of the program and former coach Michael Cooper's tenure.
USC will now return home to face the Oregon schools this weekend as the Women of Troy face Oregon State (9-6, 1-2) Friday night at 6 p.m. PST from the Galen Center.
Here is senior forward Cassie Harberts and junior forward Alexyz Vaioletama talking about the Arizona weekend and what challenges lie ahead in the Pac-12.