LOS ANGELES — USC head coach Lindsay Gottlieb sat on the podium for postgame media availability after the Trojans’ hard-fought 61-60 loss to UCLA, she couldn’t help but show emotion.
The Trojans led a large part of the game without their leading scorer Kady Sissoko, who was out with an injury. They built a 12-point lead going into the fourth quarter. But they were attacked by 10-0 UCLA to start the last period and couldn’t recover from the punch.
On the verge of tears, Gottlieb expresses her frustration with herself at not being able to close the deal.
“I’m just broke for our players. They’ve pretty much done everything we’ve asked them to do in terms of competition. There are always obvious mistakes, and we’ll see the movie,” Gottlieb said. “When a team makes an effort like that, I want them to be able to celebrate that.” I’m in the locker room and I’m disappointed and devastated that we couldn’t bring them home, really, because I couldn’t get them home to the finish line in the fourth quarter.”
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When it came to UCLA head coach Corey Close’s turn to take the podium, she was overcome with emotion, too. The Bruins didn’t show much toughness after recovering from a double-digit deficit in a game where Charisma Osborne and Kiki Rice haven’t played well this season, but they did in front of a packed crowd. With legendary alumni.
Ann Myers Drysdale, Noel Quinn, Kari Korver, Nina Westbrook, and Lauren Miller were just some of the former Bruins who turned up to witness the comeback. But the only name that brought the near to tears was not an ex-basketball player. She was Corey Anderson, the granddaughter of legendary UCLA men’s basketball coach, John Wooden.
As her voice trembled, Close spoke of how she stopped chatting to Anderson after the match and the emotions that followed.
“I was just listening to her talk about what she saw and thinking about the sincerity of the people who came before us,” Close said. “It always gets to me because Coach Wooden has given me so much. Not a day goes by without realizing how fortunate I am to walk the grades he first walked down. But also all these alumni of all those generations… It really humiliates you because we wear these letters and to have A greater representation of ourselves.”
And the game certainly represented something more than just the Pac-12 regular season game on Sunday afternoon. Touted as the Battle of Los Angeles, both teams and coaches aim to make this rivalry the number one card in the city in terms of women’s basketball. It seemed fitting that the match should come to a similar conclusion as the first meeting on 15 December.
In that game, the Trojans trailed 59-56 and eventually had the ball. They tried to run a bright screen by Alisson Miura, one of the best sharpshooters, but she ended up trapped in the corner and threw a poor pass that sealed the Trojans’ fate.
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On Sunday, the Trojans again found themselves down by three, 61-58, and with the ball for their final possession. They managed to get a shot this time. Destiny Littleton received a hand from Taylor Bigby at the top of the corkscrew and gave the three prospects a good look, but didn’t fall for it.
While the Trojans had three losses in this game, this loss felt different.
“The feeling you get after this is really different from the others because of the way we competed and the feeling as if we had it on our hands,” Gottlieb said. “If losing hurts like that, then you’re doing some things right. It’s hard to swallow, it’s really hard to swallow for me but I feel for it because I thought we did enough to win the game.”
Gottlieb’s sentiments were echoed with junior guard Kayla Williams, who tied teammate Wind Marshall with 15 points.
“It’s tough now, and it’s going to be tough. But you can’t think about it too much because it’s January 9th, and we’ve got a lot of games ahead of us and we have to prepare for it,” Williams said. “We have to feel it now and make sure we don’t We feel it again, learn from it and come back.”
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On the Bruins side, they had a career-high performance from starting point guard Lundin Jones who exploded for 22 points and was key to getting baskets when the UCLA offense was struggling against the Trojans defense. It even caught the eye of Anderson who made sure to tell Close that, “That girl from Inland Empire, she’s so good.”
While Jones notes that her big performance was really just a result of all the work she’d done up to this point, she did admit that the lively environment and famous spectators in the crowd were her standouts.
“That environment gets me going, for sure, having such a supportive system around us,” said Jones, “The fans are so supportive, always there, always cheering. And it helps, definitely, just my team’s support and my support for each other.”
The only time these two teams meet again this season will be in a potential Pac-12 Championship game in March. But regardless, they definitely laid the groundwork for what an UCLA/USC matchup should look like.
“The game was great and all sorts of things,” said Close. “But when you just think about the history and what we’re going to be involved in, it’s very humbling.”