USC women’s basketball defeats Penn behind Marshall’s first half double-double

Sophomore forward Rayah Marshall’s 19 points, 18 rebounds, three steals and five blocks were the difference in the Trojans’ win over the Quakers.

Rayah Marshall has the basketball collected in her hands. She is wearing an all-white uniform.

USC got knocked down early, but fought back to win 66-60 against Penn on Wednesday at Galen Center.

One minute into the second quarter, the Trojans trailed by nine points and were shooting 4-for-19 from the field. It wasn’t how USC expected to start against the 1-4 Quakers.

“We didn’t start the way we wanted to,” coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “I felt like Penn really asserted themselves.”

The shooting improved as the game went on — but not by much. The Trojans were shooting 13-of-36 from the field and 3-for-13 from 3-point range at halftime. USC managed to go into the half up 34-33, but the Trojans were by no means out of the woods yet.

It wasn’t a stellar team performance in the first half, but one Trojan stood out: sophomore forward Rayah Marshall. With 13 points and 10 rebounds — eight of which were on the offensive boards — Marshall had a double-double in the first half alone.

To just about any other coach, a first half double-double would be cause for celebration. But Gottlieb wasn’t thrilled with some of Marshall’s defensive plays, which she made clear to her star forward during halftime despite the flashy stat line.

“I don’t know if anyone who’s had a double-double at half has had their coach get on them before, but I sure did,” Gottlieb said. “And I thought she responded.”

Marshall ended the game with 19 points, 18 rebounds, three steals and five blocks. The 19 points and 18 rebounds each set career highs for her. Marshall dominated in nearly every facet of the game, but Gottlieb expects her to only improve as the season goes on.

“She’s so young, and we rely on her to be a veteran,” Gottlieb said. “That’s a huge growth step for her, and she’s so incredibly coachable, which means she’s gonna continue to get better.”

Marshall’s main supporting cast came in the form of graduate forward Kadi Sissoko and graduate guard Destiny Littleton. Sissoko also had a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds, while Littleton scored 13 points and led the team in assists with five.

Both have scored double digits in each game this season.

The second half was more of the same from USC. The Trojans shot 13-for-37 from the field and 1-for-6 from beyond the arc in the second half, bringing USC’s shooting rates from the game to 26-for-73 from the field and 4-for-19 from 3-point land.

It was USC’s worst shooting night of the season in terms of field goal and 3-point percentage — 35.6% and 21.1%, respectively. Gottlieb attributed the poor shooting to Penn’s zone defense that gave the Trojans fits at times.

“I do think we have really good shooters,” Gottlieb said. “I think it’s on me; I have to make our zone offense cleaner … I do think we’re a team that can dominate the paint but also make a lot of threes.”

USC trailed 46-45 with under four minutes left in the third quarter, but a 3-pointer from senior guard Alyson Miura kicked off a run that all but sealed the win for the Trojans. With an 11-0 run that cut into the fourth quarter, the Trojans jumped out to a 10-point lead with 8:45 remaining and squashed Penn’s hopes of an upset.

Despite leading for longer than USC did, Penn fell short of taking down the Trojans. USC improved to 5-0 on the season, with the Quakers dropping to 1-5.

USC’s physicality on the glass was the difference-maker. The Trojans out-rebounded the Quakers 52-33 and 27-12 on offensive boards. Those offensive rebounds allowed USC to take 13 more shots than Penn, which helped the Trojans make up for their shooting struggles.

It was a tight game against an opponent the Trojans could have beaten by more, but Gottlieb isn’t concerned in the slightest. Gottlieb expects the team — consisting of more transfers than returning players — to figure things out as the season goes on.

“We’ve got a lot of new players. We’re not young, but we’re very new,” Gottlieb said. “So that chemistry is continuing to grow. I think our communication is getting better.”

USC’s next test will come against Utah State on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Galen Center.