Alas some great things must come to an end, and for the Women of Troy (22-13) that journey to the NCAA Tournament ends after today's crushing first round loss, 71-68, in the closing seconds against St. John's.
The Women of Troy had defied the odds for most of this season on their quest to the NCAA Tournament, and were on their way towards facing No. 1 seed Tennessee while holding the lead for each of the games' first 37 minutes. But when Red Storm guard Brianna Brown nailed a corner three as the clock expired, hopes were dashed in USC's dramatic quest.
Referees quickly convened near mid court and pushed St. John's back off the floor giving USC one last heave at the bucket with 0.4 seconds to play. After catching the baseball-like inbounds pass, guard Brianna Barrett (who scored a career-high 24 PTS in the losing effort) fired a great shot off the glass, but could not convert to force overtime.
The final moments were filled with plenty of up-and-down moments of what if's and what could have been for both squads after Keylantra Langley's layup with 3:05 to play gave St. John's its first lead of the game. USC quickly responded however, as Pac-12 Tournament MVP Ariya Crook (16 PTS) with her second three-pointer of the game to tie it up at 68.
It was not the prettiest of games since officials were calling the game extremely close to the chest, calling 54 fouls from start to finish. Both teams where then forced to play most of the final moments with great players like Cassie Harberts, Alexyz Vaioletama and four starters for the Red Storm working conservatively on the court all with four fouls.
Playing in her final game for USC, Cassie Harberts (8 Pts, 3-9 shooting) struggled to make her mark in the second half after picking up her fourth foul with eight minutes to play. But Harberts got the basketball on the left block in the final minute but rolled in and out on a short floater she has made countless times in her star-studded collegiate career.
USC came out firing making shot after shot against the nation's top-ranked 3-pt defense. Brianna Barrett's triple with 14:57 to play in the first half gave the Women of Troy the 17-8 lead, one they would hold the entire first half.
Alexyz Vaioletama (8 Pts, 11 Rebs) scored the first bucket of the game and battled with Amber Thompson (10 Pts, 17 Rebs) from start to finish. St. John's was led by Alliyyah Handford, who at times single-handedly led the Red Storm on the offensive end with her 27 points on 8-21 shooting and impressive 11-15 performance from the stripe.
After both teams continued to exchange quick-hitting scoring runs for most of the half, the Red Storm closed the first frame with a clutch Keylantra Langley three at the buzzer, making it 40-35 in favor of USC. The Women of Troy were not turning the basketball over, but they were continuing to accumulate the foul concerns and St. John's began to convert.
The Red Storm won in unconventional fashion against USC, breaking its trend as the worst free throw shooting team in the Big East sinking 27-33 shots from the charity stripe while the Women of Troy shot 77% (24-31) in the free throw galore.
It may not have ended the way the Women of Troy had wanted, but the back and forth battle showcased great tenacity from start to finish, something that can be largely attributed to senior leadership and the coaching intensity under newly-energized leadership.
The heartbreaking loss ended USC's first NCAA tournament berth since 2006 in the first year under new coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, who played on USC's 1983 and 1984 national championship teams. The Trojans doubled their win total from last season (11-20 in 2013), and will head back from Knoxville, Tenn. wonder what could have been in the NCAA's.
Crazy game.. So proud of the effort the girls gave though!! Keep ya'll heads up, You guys had a Great year!!!!!!! @USCWBB— Dion Bailey (@dbailey_18) March 23, 2014
Heartbreaking loss for USC Women's Hoops, who gets buzzer-beaten by St John's, 71-68. And we'll likely see the replay on SportsCenter often.— Jacob Freedman (@Jacob_Freedman) March 23, 2014
Thank you for the support! #FightOn RT @USCTMB: Thanks for an exciting season, @USCWBB. Loved being there with you the whole way.— USC Trojans WBB (@USCWBB) March 23, 2014