It has been said that if you stop Cheryl Miller, you stop the USC women's basketball team, but the Trojans showed Tuesday night that they can succeed without the services of their three-time All-American forward.
While Miller, who injured her eye against Louisiana Tech last week, was in New Orleans Tuesday night for the Broderick Award dinner, the rest of the Trojans were busy defeating Cal State Fullerton, 80-68, in a nonconference game in Titan Gym.
Fifth-ranked USC (13-2) held off a late Fullerton rally by scoring the game's last eight points to win going away. Senior guard Cynthia Cooper, who scored a team-high 24 points, made two free throws and a jump shot in the last 1:45 to lead the Trojans.
USC had built a 10-point lead with 5:36 remaining, but Fullerton (4-10) scored the next six points to trim the lead to four, 72-68. Holly Ford hit two free throws with 2:16 left for USC and the Titans went cold, missing their next five shots from the field.
Senior guard Rhonda Windham led an effective fast break, scoring 16 points (9 above her average) and adding 13 assists, while freshman forward Cherie Nelson, starting in Miller's place, had 14 points and 17 rebounds.
"I was proud of how the kids played together tonight," USC Coach Linda Sharp said. "Playing without Cheryl was a challenge for them, and Cooper and Windham showed a lot of leadership. We passed well and didn't make many turnovers."
This was the first time that Miller, who had been averaging 26.1 points and 12.4 rebounds a game, had missed a college game. She is expected to return for Thursday night's game against Arizona.
"Everyone responded pretty well," Windham said. "The main place we missed Cheryl was under the boards. She's an animal and can really intimidate people."
The Trojans were still the aggressors Tuesday night, implementing a full-court press that caused 21 Fullerton turnovers. But the Titans, who were 1-9 before winning three straight games last week, were able to keep up with the Trojans and played a strong overall game.
They just slipped in the end.
Guard Robin Holmes made 10 of 13 shots from the floor and scored 25 points, while forward Alayna McGee added 13 points. The Titans shot 51% from the field (30 of 58) and held the lead several times in the first half.