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From Beyond The Arc: USC WBB 2023 Preview

Can the Trojans continue to improve?

NCAA Womens Basketball: Southern California at Stanford John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Lindsay Gottlieb will be guiding the USC Trojans WBB team in her third year as their head coach. For about the past 10 years, USC has been struggling to be better than a mediocre team chained to the middle of the Pac-12 standings. Gottlieb has been tasked with elevating the USC program.

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - First Round - Virginia Photo by Ryan Hunt/Getty Images

Gottlieb was the head coach for the Cal Bears for eight seasons starting in 2011, and the Bears reached the NCAA tournament in seven of those eight seasons. In 2019, Gottlieb was hired by the Cleveland Cavaliers as an assistant coach and became the first NCAA women’s head coach to be hired by an NBA team.

Gottlieb started with USC in 2021-22, and the Trojans ended with a 12-16 (5-12, Pac-12) record and were tied for 10th in the Pac-12 standing that season. The Trojans made significant gains last season, and their 21-10 (11-7 Pac-12, tied for 4th) record landed them in the NCAA tournament. In the Pac-12 tournament, #6 USC was bounced out in the first round by #11 Oregon State. Their record earned them a #8 seed in the NCAA tournament, where they lost in the first round against #9 South Dakota State.

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - First Round - Virginia
#11 Destiny Littleton
Photo by Ryan Hunt/Getty Images

USC’s team stats from last season don’t exactly jump off the page. As a team, they shot 37.9%, with an average of 32.6% from long range, and 73% from the line. USC’s assist/turnover average per game was 13.8 to 15.4. However, it should be noted that opponents shot 35.4%, with 27.2% from range over the season. In Pac-12 play, opponents shot 37% with 29.5% on threes. Regardless, the numbers demonstrate the emphasis on defense that USC carries.

6-2 F Kadi Sissoko averaged the most PPG for the Trojans with 15.4. 5-9 G Destiny Littleton was next with 14 PPG, and 6-4 F Rayah Marshall rounded out the double-digit scorers per game at 12.7. Marshall also averaged 11.5 rebounds per game and easily had the most blocks with 98 on the season. All three were primary starters along with 6-0 G Okako Adika and 5-7 G Kayla Williams.

USC lost Sissiko, Littleton, and Adika to graduation, along with bench players 5-9 G Alyson Miura and 5-9 G Rokia Doumbia.

5-9 So. F Bella Perkins transferred to Pittsburgh, and 5-11 R-Jr. G Madison Campbell (who had no stats last season) retired for medical reasons.

The Trojans lose seven players, including three starters, but return starters Marshall and Williams. USC brought in two players in their 2023 recruiting class:

5-6 G Malia Samuels was named 2021-22 3A Washington State Player of the Year as a junior at Garfield High in Seattle. She helped Garfield in winning the 3A State Championships in 2022 and 2023. Samuels averaged 16.5 points, 6.3 assists, 6.1 steals and 3.4 rebounds per game.

Gottlieb hit a grand slam in bringing on board the #1 recruit in the country, Juju Watkins. Watkins grew up in nearby Watts, so she stayed close to home in choosing the Trojans. She is a 6-2 G, and averaged 24.5 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.8 steals and 2.0 blocks in her senior year.

With having so many players graduate, the Trojans made use of the portal to bring in five players.

McKenzie Forbes is a 6-0 graduate transfer G from Harvard. Last season she started 31 of 32 games for Harvard, averaging 30.4 MPG. Forbes shot 41.5%, including 40.1% from range, and hit 74.4% from the stripe. She also averaged 2.3 assists and 13.7 points per game.

Kayla Padilla is a 5-9 graduate transfer G from Penn. Some of her highlights include being a Unanimous First Team All-Ivy selection, and leading the Ivy League with 17.7 PPG. She shot 41.3% from the field, including 38.6% on threes. She had her best season at the line last year, going 85.5% at the stripe.

Kaitlyn Davis is a 6-0 graduate transfer G from Columbia. She was also a Unanimous First Team All-Ivy selection. Last season Davis started all 34 games for Columbia, averaging 28.4 MPG, shooting 51% on FGs (178/349) and 25% on 3s (9/36). She shot a little over 70% from the line.

5-10 R-So. G Dominique Onu transferred from UCLA. Having transferred in January of 2023, she was not eligible to play last season.

USC also brought aboard Roxanne Makolo, a 5-10 graduate transfer G from TCU. Before TCU, Makalo was injured and missed two seasons at Purdue. Her stats don’t have the flash of other players, and so Makolo would appear to have been added for experience and depth.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Stanford at Southern California Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Trojans lost significant pieces from last season’s squad, and this coming season they look to be in a combination rebuild/reload mode. If USC had any other head coach, it would be easy to dismiss them as being destined for the middle 13 of the Pac-12; however, in head coach Lindsey Gottlieb USC has an X-factor and Gottlieb has proven she can coach a team up. It will be very interesting to see how the Trojans fare this coming season in Pac-12 play.