Having not played since late December, USC graduate forward Kadi Sissoko shook off any notions of rust, putting together 19 points in a 51-44 victory Friday night on the road against the Washington State Cougars.
“Our offense was a little bit out of rhythm, but Kadi provided a great skill set for us,” head coach Lindsay Gottlieb said.
Along with Sissoko, sophomore guard Rayah Marshall collected nine points and 13 rebounds. Junior guard Kayla Williams added eight more points of her own.
On the defensive side, the Trojans limited their opponent to 50 points or less for the 11th time this season. The Trojans entered Friday with the fifth-best scoring defense in Division 1, with opponents scoring 51.6 points per game.
WSU was missing junior guard Charlisse Leger-Walker, who averages 20.7 points a game. In her absence, the Cougars shot 35% from the field, well below their season average of 45%.
“Washington State has a really complete offense,” Gottlieb said. “It made me nervous because they played well against Oregon without Charlisse, so I knew we had to step up on defense even more. We did a good job forcing turnovers and putting pressure on them.”
In Beasley Coliseum, both sides went scoreless for the first two minutes before Sissoko made two free throws with 8:11 to go in the first quarter. The two teams went back and forth for the remainder of the quarter with Sissoko scoring nine of the team’s 13 points in the period.
The Cougar defense started to concentrate on Sissoko, even triple-teaming her at one point. Despite this, the forward from Paris scored two key jumpers in the final two minutes to give her 15 points for the half and the Trojans a 26-23 lead at the break.
Out of the half, the Trojans extended their lead to as much as 13 points. However, the Cougars clawed back with a 9-2 run to end the third quarter. WSU senior center Bella Murekatete scored seven points in the final three minutes of the period to tighten the score to 42-36.
Williams got the Trojans rolling in the fourth with a quick layup. A 3-pointer off the backboard by senior guard Alyson Miura gave the Trojans a 47-36 lead.
Once again, the Cougars struck back, going on an 8-0 run while keeping the Trojans scoreless for five minutes. The score got as close as 49-44, forcing Gottlieb to call a timeout.
“I just had to settle my team down, and remind them that we still had the lead,” Gottlieb said. “I mainly wanted them to slow down the pace.”
However, the Trojan defense stifled the Cougars, keeping them off the board for the final three minutes and ensuring victory. The win moves the Trojans to 14-4 overall and 4-3 in the Pac-12.
The Trojans will try to make it three in a row against Washington (10-7 overall) at Alaska Airlines Arena in Seattle on Sunday. The Huskies are coming off a 51-47 loss to No. 9 UCLA and are 2-5 in the Pac-12.