After a very competitive first 20 minutes, the USC Trojans played a dominant second half of basketball to earn a 65-48 victory over Virginia on Sunday.
The Trojans established themselves early in Charlottesville, roaring out to an 11-0 lead in the game’s first three minutes. The team made its first four shots offensively, including a pair of three pointers from graduate guard Tera Reed and graduate forward Jordan Sanders. During that same stretch of time, UVA missed its first six shots from the field and turned the ball over three times.
The cushion USC built early proved to be important, as the Cavaliers closed out the first quarter with a run of their own. They outscored USC 16-6 over the final six-and-a-half minutes of the opening frame to cut the deficit to just one point.
Both teams struggled to build offensive momentum in the second quarter, shooting a combined 11-for-29 from the field, but USC still found opportunities to pick up points at the free-throw line. The team went 5-for-7 at the line in the second quarter, while Virginia went just 1-for-2. USC entered the halftime break with a four-point lead.
In the second half, freshman forward Rayah Marshall took over. Coming off the bench, Marshall attacked the basket and hit multiple contested mid-range shots to become the Trojans’ offensive catalyst.
She was by far the game’s most efficient scorer, finishing with 16 points on 8-of-14 shooting. No player with at least five shot attempts on either side shot 50% from the floor or better besides Marshall, who scored 14 of her 16 points in the second half and became USC’s go-to scoring option as the game progressed. The Los Angeles native also had nine rebounds, finishing one shy of USC’s second double-double of the game (freshman guard Clarice Akunwafo had the first).
“She’s just very naturally gifted,” head coach Lindsay Gottlieb said of Marshall. “She can do some things that you can’t really teach, so I’m just trying to put her in the right spots, let her have a feeling of freedom and confidence, and then teach her some things along the way. Really, I just challenged her a bit at halftime to come out and play with energy and aggression, and she takes over from there.”
For the spectacular game Marshall had, her most memorable moment may have been a play she did not make. Midway through the fourth quarter, she had a breakaway to the basket off a steal and attempted a dunk. It was unsuccessful, but it did not alter her confidence one iota; the very next possession she hauled a pass from her team’s baseline to the other team’s free-throw line to hit junior center Angel Jackson in stride down the court, leading to a Virginia foul.
“You gotta be confident to try and throw down a dunk in the open court and then turn around and throw a baseball pass,” Gottlieb said. “There are not a lot of things that she can’t do on the basketball court. What I’m trying to do is get her great at everything, but part of that process is you just want to let her go a little bit, and so that’s what we’re doing. She’ll just continue to get sharper, tighter, but she’s just gifted in a lot of ways and we want to take advantage of that.”
Fueled by the freshman, USC won the second half 31-18 and closed the game out on an 8-0 run to seal the road victory.
Defensively, it was a pure team effort from the Trojans to completely shut down their opponents. Virginia shot just 28.6% from the field on the game and turned the ball over 15 times. The Cavaliers were unable to get comfortable anywhere on the court offensively; they shot just 2-for-13 from beyond the arc and were outscored in the paint 22-6 in the second half. USC was simply the tougher team down low, recording six blocked shots in the game.
“We were trying to use our length to make the court seem crowded,” Gottlieb explained about the Trojan’s defensive strategy. “We knew they wanted to play through the post; their bigs had a big game in their first game against [James Madison], so we wanted to double in the post and make them take tougher shots on the perimeter. I thought we did a good job trying to own the game throughout the 40 minutes.”
The Trojans created fits for the Cavaliers’ top scoring threats; junior guard Taylor Valladay and junior forward Camryn Taylor combined for only 15 points on 5-of-23 shooting.
Sunday’s win improves the Trojans to 2-0 on the young season. They return home this week for their next game against Western Michigan Thursday night. Tip off for that contest is 7 p.m. at Galen Center.