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PACIFIC 10 WOMEN'S TOURNAMENT

In Stretch, Trojans Fight On

March 08, 2003|Mike Terry | Times Staff Writer

SAN JOSE — USC allegedly had the easiest opening game in the 2003 Pacific 10 Conference women's basketball tournament, playing a Washington State team Friday that had won only two of 27 games.

But the No. 7-seeded Trojans made it harder on themselves than it had to be and were lucky to escape with a 53-46 victory at the HP Pavilion.

USC had beaten the 10th-seeded Cougars twice by a combined 97 points. But the Trojans -- who led, 30-25, at the half -- struggled with their shooting (21 of 64, 32.8%). That included a three-of-16 stretch midway through the second half that allowed the Cougars to take their only lead, 44-43, on a 12-foot jump shot by forward Holly Harris with 4:43 left to play.

Still the Trojans (14-16), thanks in part to 17 points and a tournament record 20 rebounds by Ebony Hoffman, recovered down the stretch to avoid the upset.

"I was really determined to step up my rebounding; that was my goal for the tournament," Hoffman said. "The past few games I've been lacking on the rebounding and that was really disappointing to me."

The Cougars didn't help themselves by making only 15 of 51 shots (29.4%), and no field goals after Harris' basket. But Washington State stayed close by forcing 21 Trojan turnovers

"My hat's off to Washington State. I thought they played their hearts out," USC Coach Chris Gobrecht said. "For a team to come out after being beaten twice as badly as they were beaten by us, and put out that kind of effort, is a great job by those kids."

USC has roughly a 15-hour break before today's game against No. 2-seeded Washington, but Gobrecht hopes the worst is behind the Trojans.

"I talked to [Oregon] Coach Bev Smith because her team played this game last year," Gobrecht said. "She talked about how difficult that first game was, and about how much she thought it helped them the next day. So we're hoping the pattern repeats itself."

Jessica Parry and Bianca McCal each had 12 points for Washington State.

In the second game, No. 9-seeded California defeated No. 8-seeded and defending tournament champion Arizona State, 46-38.

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Complacency seems the least of UCLA's problems in playing Oregon (12-15).

Although the Bruins (17-10) won both games this season, including last week at Pauley Pavilion, Coach Kathy Olivier says the Ducks "are playing with a lot of rhythm."

"To be honest we're not looking forward to playing them again. We have to make sure we play tough defense, do the things we do well, and hopefully good things will happen," Olivier said.

Of course last season the Bruins, who were 9-20, were just happy to be in any postseason tournament. But this season there could be an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament awaiting UCLA, depending on how it plays this weekend, which adds to the pressure.

"Our team is ready [for the challenge]," Olivier said. "We have said from the first day of practice that we make sure we put our best foot forward. And after this tournament we don't want to say 'It's over.' We want to continue our season."

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