After a dominant 78-46 victory over Dartmouth College in which guards Ashley Corral and Heather Oliver scored 18 points apiece – in addition to 7 rebounds and 5 assists from Corral – first-year coach Michael Cooper suggested that people could continue to get those numbers all year.
“We’re starting to get our offense going and people are starting to understand how to get their shots within our offense,” said Cooper in a post-game interview on Saturday night. “So I thought we did a good job of executing, moving the ball around well, and finding the open player. If we do that, people can get those type of numbers the rest of the season.”
However, if last night’s 93-56 drubbing of California State University - Bakersfield is any indication, the numbers might look a bit different. Aside from how impressive it is that they secured a win with only 8 active players on their roster, it’s the way they’re playing that is noteworthy.
Although Corral – currently the Pac-10’s third leading scorer -- turned in a strong enough performance to seal tournament MVP honors with 15 points and 7 assists, her performance was hardly the top performance on the team last night and arguably not even one of the top 3 or 4.
USC had 6 players in double figures and two with double-doubles as they dominated the boards 58-30 against a smaller CSUB team and shot 48.1% from the field. Forward Aarika Hughes was arguably the game’s MVP with an outstanding all-around game scoring a career-high 15 points on 5-10 shooting and grabbing 9 rebounds. The two games – the first in which Corral and Oliver led the way, the second in which 6 players scored in double figures – exemplify Cooper’s approach to the Pac-10.
“What we want to do is we want to get everyone involved and work on our offense and I thought we did that,” said Cooper after last night’s win over CSUB. “That’s what we have to do – in order to play and compete at the Pac-10 level we’re going to have to mix things up. You can’t just be a stagnant or one-dimensional team. Again, I thought we did a very good job of doing that – getting the ball inside, getting it outside, and not being too selfish or sticking with one thing.”
In addition to their unselfishness in moving the ball, USC got a bit more assertive on the boards. A key performance that might go overlooked with so many solid performances was that of 6’5” center Kari LaPlante, who had a relatively modest 12 points but matching a career-high with 10 rebounds, including 5 offensive rebounds.
It was a huge change from the previous night and perhaps indicative of something that will be key for USC to focus on as the season moves forward.
Rebounding is a team effort
Against a Dartmouth team whose only player over 6’1” is 6’3” forward Sasha Dosenko who “plays a European style and likes to play on the wing” according to the Dartmouth website, USC was not only out-rebounded 40-37, but also gave up 19 offensive rebounds. Despite a size disadvantage, Dartmouth managed to grab 40% of the available offensive rebounds, while USC only got 28% of their available offensive rebounds.
“We gave up 19 offensive rebounds -- you’re not going to win many games with that,” said Cooper after the Dartmouth win on Saturday night. “This is a team that rebounded the ball and can rebound the ball well with many teams in the country. So that’s an area that we can sure up but again it’s just concentration and staying focused on our fundamentals of boxing people out.”
Part of the problem was that Dosenko, who is averaging 5.8 rebounds for the season, grabbed 13 on Saturday night, including 7 offensive rebounds. She had an impressive offensive rebounding percentage of 38.88% and a solid defensive rebounding percentage of 18.60. Conversely, LaPlante finished the Dartmouth game with 3 boards and an offensive rebounding percentage of 4.22%. Dartmouth successfully kept her off the boards while doing a solid job rebounding themselves.
That changed last night.
As a team, USC had an offensive rebounding percentage of 56% to CSUB’s 26%. Individually, they not only got much stronger production from LaPlante, but also a much stronger team effort.
LaPlante had an offensive rebounding percentage of 19.76% along with a defensive rebounding percentage of 23.92%, both major increases from the previous night. While the rest of USC’s front line also experienced an increase in rebounding percentage, they also got much stronger rebounding from reserves Oliver and forward Christina Marinacci. Marinacci had an offensive rebounding percentage of 11.34%, while Oliver got 7.56% of the available offensive rebounds. Again, it was a team effort rather than the work of a few individuals that helped them on the boards.
“We had a little bit of a size advantage -- I think that helped, but I think our effort and fundamental part was to do the right things and rebound the basketball,” said Cooper. “We’re going to the glass and that’s what it’s going to take for us to compete in our conference and win the championship.”
Yet statistically, one of the most impressive aspects of the game was how well they shared the ball.
As Cooper said, the team moved the ball extremely well as evidenced by their 67.57% assist to field goal ratio to complement their field goal percentage – that means not only were they setting each other up for scoring opportunities, but they were good scoring opportunities.
More impressive statistically is looking at their individual usage percentages – the percentage of plays each player uses – while on the floor. While Corral still used the highest percentage of plays at 25.66%, 6 other players had usage percentages between 19.29% and 21.57%. It’s impressive even in a blowout against a team that they should have beat, as Cooper described it. It means that not only was everyone involved, but they were almost equally involved play to play.
Does unselfishness guarantee a championship in a conference with two ranked teams and at least one team (Oregon) on the fringe? Not quite. But for a team that has been hit hard by injuries to the point where they only have eight players available, it might be the only way to even compete.