Lindsay Gottlieb knew her protection was good. However she didn’t understand how good.
Permitting simply 54.8 factors per recreation, USC is on tempo to have one of the best scoring protection in this system’s NCAA historical past. Gottlieb, the group’s second-year coach, raised her eyebrows and nodded in modest approval when she heard the actual fact.
The group’s protection is an ideal mixture of personnel, planning and keenness. It’s why the No. 8 seed Trojans are again within the NCAA match for the primary time since 2014. They open their match run towards No. 9 South Dakota State at 5 p.m. in Blacksburg, Va., on Friday. The sport might be televised on ESPNews.
It’s extra than simply hustle and coronary heart behind USC’s Pac-12-leading protection that ranks 18th within the nation. Calling the artwork of protection simply vitality is an insult by affiliate head coach Beth Burns’ requirements.
“There’s a technique to our insanity,” the workers’s defensive chief mentioned.
Within the first yr underneath Gottlieb, the Trojans allowed 64.7 factors per recreation, which ranked a hundred and fifty fifth within the nation. After the season, Gottlieb evaluated this system to begin its rebuild in earnest. Step one was reloading on expertise by means of the switch portal.
Seven gamers joined, together with 4 that cracked the beginning lineup. Kayla Williams, who earned Huge West all-defensive group honors at UC Irvine final season, units the tone on the high of the protection.
The Bishop Montgomery alumna jumped on the alternative to come back to USC this season. The undersized, 5-foot-7 guard bought curiosity from the earlier USC teaching workers popping out of highschool however by no means an official supply. As an alternative, she gained Huge West Freshman of the 12 months whereas at Irvine and earned all-conference first-team honors in back-to-back years.
Having proved herself at UCI, Williams is motivated to make her mark for her hometown college, beginning on the defensive finish.
“If I get a taller individual on me, lots of people don’t suppose I can defend them properly, so I take that personally,” Williams mentioned. “I really feel like I’ve so much to show on the defensive finish and I do know what I can achieve this it’s nearly truthfully proving individuals mistaken.”
On-ball stress is the muse of USC’s protection, Burns mentioned. With Williams urgent on the level of assault, the Trojans hope to funnel opponents into the paint.
That’s Rayah Marshall’s area.
The sophomore who was named to the Pac-12 all-defensive group is the nation’s second-leading shotblocker with 3.37 per recreation. Her 91 blocks are third in USC’s single-season historical past and simply 4 behind Lisa Leslie’s all-time report.
Together with Marshall, the Trojans have 6-foot-2 Minnesota switch Kadi Sissoko, and 6-foot Okako Adika, a switch from Texas Christian. The pair has size and switchability. Level guard Future Littleton is without doubt one of the group’s smartest gamers, Burns mentioned, and is all the time in place to name out performs.
The group is “constructed in addition to you might be constructed,” Gottlieb mentioned.
However even with the personnel in place, it took Burns time to know her gamers’ capabilities. She didn’t be a part of the workers till June and the Trojans spent a number of weeks throughout the summer time simply engaged on elementary defensive abilities.
“After I began, it was like talking a special language,” mentioned Burns, the winningest head coach in San Diego State historical past who led the Aztecs to seven NCAA match appearances in 15 seasons. “They thought I used to be loopy.”
Williams’ first impression of Burns was that the coach was “old-school and hard.”
“Robust, powerful, powerful,” the Pac-12 all-defensive group honorable point out repeats with a smile.
That toughness extends to her gamers, who’re motivated to hold Burns’ defensive gospel onto the courtroom.
“She doesn’t take a play off,” Williams mentioned. “So she doesn’t permit us to take a play off. And that’s what makes us play for 40 minutes.”
USC stays locked in on protection even when its offense struggles. The Trojans have shot worse than 30% from the sector in 4 of their final 5 video games, however nonetheless gained two of these poor-shooting video games. Cashing in on the group’s defensive success by changing on offense was a key speaking level after a 56-47 loss to Oregon State within the first spherical of the Pac-12 match, Burns mentioned.
However the veteran coach is aware of offense might be fickle in March. Courts are out of the blue coated in particular NCAA branding and reporters and TV cameras pack information conferences. The scene might be particularly nerve-wracking for groups that lack expertise on the large stage.
Littleton, who helped South Carolina to a nationwide championship final season, is aware of the way it goes. She additionally is aware of the worth of protection throughout March after the Gamecocks allowed 45.5 factors per recreation within the match final yr, the second-lowest mark in historical past.
“You’ll be able to’t actually management if the ball goes within the hoop, however you possibly can management what you do on protection,” Littleton mentioned. “Finally, who will get probably the most stops wins the sport.”