USC got a fantastic performance by sophomore forward Rayah Marshall and a clutch, game-tying three by graduate guard Destiny Littleton at the end of regulation.
It wasn’t enough against redshirt senior forward Myah Selland and No. 9 seed South Dakota State, as the No. 8 seed Trojans fell 62-57 in overtime in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“I’m proud of our team and I’m proud of the people in the locker room. The journey we went on was an exceptional one,” USC head coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “We wish it were longer. We wanted to keep playing. I’m really disappointed but the predominant feeling is pride in this group and what they have done for our program.”
The first half was more or less the epitome of USC women’s basketball this season: an ugly slugfest.
The record-setting defense that carried the Trojans to this position remained dominant in the opening minutes. And as usual, sophomore forward Rayah Marshall was at the forefront of that effort. She had three blocks in the first 4:10, as SDSU made just one of its first 10 shots. Marshall would finish with seven rejections, breaking Lisa Leslie’s single-season program record for blocks with 98.
“For me, I just like to come and compete. I feel like when I’m blocking shots on the defensive end, I’m sparking my team full of energy,” Marshall said. “Definitely going to have to brag to Lisa a little bit about that. But I’m grateful to have done that and completed that with Coach G and this team this season.”
Still, giveaways plagued the USC offense, preventing it from getting early separation. The Trojans’ entry passes to their forwards were often inaccurate, leading to extra opportunities for the Jackrabbits. After a 12-2 start favoring USC, it went the next six and a half minutes without a point and almost nine minutes without a field goal, bridging into the second quarter.
In general, USC slowed the game’s pace in its favor, countering the Jackrabbits’ typically quick tempo. The Trojans were able to set their stifling half-court defense more often than not, which inhibited the potent SDSU offense. However, a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the second quarter by Selland, a two-time Summit League Player of the Year, put the Jackrabbits ahead 23-20 at the break.
Offensive issues continued for USC into the third quarter. Though they improved at taking care of the ball after a 12-turnover first half, the Trojans weren’t finding quality shots against an aggressive Jackrabbit defense. Even when USC got open looks in the paint, nothing seemed to fall, like when Marshall got a steal only to narrowly miss a finger-roll layup as the third quarter expired.
USC was lucky to still be down just three entering the final period, shooting just 27% from the field up until that point. But, as has been the case all season, the Trojans’ defense kept them in it, turning SDSU over 20 times and holding the Jackrabbits to 35% shooting for the contest.
Despite an inefficient night from the field, Marshall started to get things going in the fourth. A layup plus the foul put USC ahead for the first time in the second half at 35-34, and she followed it up with a jumper from the foul line.
On the other side, though, Selland matched Marshall’s efforts. The Jackrabbits’ leading scorer, who finished with 29 points on 10-for-18 shooting, found a pair of buckets to give her team the lead back temporarily. Later, Selland extended the margin to three with another layup at the 1:28 mark. The Trojans have been able to guard seemingly anyone this season but couldn’t seem to figure out the 6-foot-1 veteran.
“To me she’s a pro. She scores at all three levels,” Gottlieb said of Selland. “Their system and their offense makes it really hard. You can’t really double her right because they will kick out for threes.”
The deficit remained the same for USC when it got the ball back with 33 seconds left, needing just a quick two to stay in it. But the Trojans wanted to tie it now, getting graduate guard Okako Adika open for a three on the right wing.
It missed short.
However, Marshall made an incredible effort to get the offensive rebound and kicked it back out to the perimeter. Graduate guard Destiny Littleton then drained the second-chance opportunity, almost to her own surprise, leveling the score at 45 with seven seconds left.
USC still needed a stop to force overtime. And, you guessed it, Marshall was there to disrupt the jumper and record her seventh block of the game as regulation expired.
Selland would answer Marshall again in the extra period, when she completely took over the game. She recorded ten points in overtime, including six free throws and a tough layup around Marshall that put SDSU up seven.
The Trojans cut the lead to three with under 30 seconds left and forced a turnover, but Littleton’s 3-point effort this time wouldn’t fall to seal the Trojans’ fate. The Jackrabbits’ free-throw shooting was vital in overtime, going 13-for-15 at the charity stripe to maintain their lead.
In her final college game, Littleton scored a game-high 18 points but shot just 6-of-19 from the field with five turnovers. Though her defensive effort and 13 rebounds were terrific, Marshall was also inefficient offensively with 17 points on 7-for-20 shooting and 2-for-7 at the line, as USC shot just 31% for the game.
“[SDSU is] a seasoned team,” Littleton said. “They just took away what we wanted to do. They pressured us. They forced us to take shots that we normally wouldn’t take. And so they kind of
just got us out of our rhythm a little bit, and we couldn’t really find the open person.”
The Trojans finish the season with a 21-10 record, the program’s best mark since 1996-97.