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USC women play UCLA in Pac-12 opener Monday night

The Trojans are still learning the system of first-year head Coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, and the Bruins are struggling with injuries.

December 29, 2013|By Diane Pucin
  • First-year Coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke will lead her alma mater into a Pac-12 Conference game against crosstown rival UCLA on Monday.
First-year Coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke will lead her alma mater into a Pac-12… (Gail Burton / Associated…)

It's her first chance to be a coach against UCLA, but USC's Cynthia Cooper-Dyke knows what it's like to play against the crosstown rival. She did it as a player for the Trojans and led them to consecutive national titles and an 8-0 record against the Bruins.

Now Cooper-Dyke is USC's first-year head coach and the USC women (7-5) open Pac-12 play Monday at 7 p.m. at UCLA (6-6).

The Bruins, who advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament last season after finishing second in the Pac-12 tournament, are struggling this season because of injuries.

They beat Cal Poly on Saturday with only seven healthy players.

UCLA Coach Cori Close, who signed what was generally considered the best recruiting class in the nation last month, said it was difficult at first to adjust to losing so many players.

"We're getting used to it now," Close said of her team that lost three-point shooting specialist Kari Korver to a knee injury, guard Lauren Holiday to a concussion and forward Corinne Costa to a knee injury among others.

UCLA has played one of the toughest preseason schedules in the country, including Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Notre Dame, which are all nationally ranked, plus North Carolina State and Auburn.

"It's almost like culture shock, playing all these highly ranked teams right off the bat," Close said. "And then with all our injuries, that hasn't helped. But we're moving in the right direction. I still have a feeling by the end of the season we'll be a good team."

Cooper-Dyke said her team is still in the process of learning her system, which resembles that of new Trojans men's Coach Andy Enfield.

"We're a work in progress," Cooper-Dyke said. "We're a little inconsistent but getting better. I love to run, get out in transition, get easy buckets, but you have to have that balance, be able to run your half-court offense too."

Cooper-Dyke said she has been immensely impressed with 6-foot-2 senior forward Cassie Harberts. Harberts is averaging 14.5 points a game and 7.1 rebounds a game and has 27 assists, tied for second on the team. "I think she's one of the best players that's ever been at USC," Cooper-Dyke said.

UCLA is led by the combination of 5-9 guard Nirra Fields and 5-11 forward Atonye Nyingifa, who each average 17.5 points a game. Guard Thea Lemberger is right behind, scoring 16.5 a game.

diane.pucin@latimes.com

Twitter: @mepucin

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