Dominant second half leads USC women’s basketball past Washington

After a slow start, USC gained the lead in the fourth quarter and didn’t look back.

A photo of USC basketball player Jordyn Jenkins going up for a shot

The USC women’s basketball team gave up three points to Washington State in the first quarter on Friday and conceded 24 to Washington in the opening frame on Sunday.

The team they ended up beating? The Huskies.

Fueled by a 24-point birthday performance from sophomore forward Jordyn Jenkins, the Trojans surged back from a 10-point halftime deficit to defeat Washington 73-66 at Galen Center.

“The way that we had to come back showed a lot of character from our group,” head coach Lindsay Gottlieb said after the game. “We were the tougher team in the second half, and I’m really excited for the fight that we showed.”

The Huskies set the tone early, putting up seven points before the Trojans could get on the board. Senior center Nancy Mulkey, whose 6-foot-9 frame makes her three inches taller than anyone on USC’s roster, was dominant around the basket in the first period, posting nine points on 4-of-5 shooting. Mulkey finished with 26 points, 16 more than any other Husky.

Washington sank three shots from deep and collected 10 points off USC turnovers to amass a 10-point lead by the end of the first quarter.

The Trojans kept within striking distance in the second quarter, but it was after halftime when they began to dominate, shooting 71.4% from the field in the third quarter. Jenkins was instrumental in her team’s comeback with 12 third-quarter points, and junior forward Alissa Pili, who struggled in the first half, aided the effort with six points and three rebounds in the period.

USC also incorporated more zone defense after halftime, which Gottlieb said put the Huskies out of rhythm.

The Trojans finally took the lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter. After Friday’s tough loss, where Washington State outscored USC 41-26 in the second half, USC knew it couldn’t afford a similar late-game letdown. Two big threes from junior guard Alyson Miura, the star of last week’s upset win over Arizona, helped the Trojans avoid just that.

“From the moment that [Washington State] game ends until the moment the next game starts, there’s a lot of work to be done, and I think our players really took ownership of things we could have done better,” Gottlieb said. “The biggest factor was that we were more aggressive and tougher, committed to finishing out each possession.”

USC was missing graduate forward Jordan Sanders for the third straight game due to a knee injury she suffered Jan. 7 against Colorado. Gottlieb said Sanders’ injury is not season-ending and her status is “week-to-week.” Sanders scored double digits in nine of 11 games prior to the injury.

With a 2-2 conference record, USC moves to sixth in a tough Pac-12 field. The Trojans are 9-5 on the season and now look ahead to two battles against crosstown rival UCLA. USC will make the trip to Pauley Pavilion on Thursday to play a game that was rescheduled due to COVID-19 protocols before hosting the Bruins on Sunday.

“We’re just going to have to keep our energy up and keep making shots,” Jenkins said of the team’s approach to facing UCLA. “We’re a deadly team when we’re making shots, so as long as we keep that up, we’re golden.”