Beth Burns offers a look inside her methods as USC’s defensive coordinator

In basketball, we don’t always refer to assistant coaches as “coordinators,” but it’s a very real thing to identify certain assistant coaches as precisely that. Beth Burns of USC qualifies as one such example.

Certain head coaches in basketball — just like football — have a knack for coaching one side of the ball but need help with the other side. There have been examples of “coordinator hires” making a difference for basketball teams in the NBA and college hoops. Doc Rivers hired Tom Thibodeau as his defensive coordinator with the Boston Celtics, a move which helped Boston win the 2008 NBA championship. Michigan head coach John Beilein hired defensive coordinator Luke Yaklich, a move which enabled Michigan to reach the 2018 NCAA national championship game.

USC head coach Lindsay Gottlieb develops great offensive sets, but she really wanted help on defense, and that’s where hiring Beth Burns as an assistant came into play. Burns’ performance at USC has been nothing short of spectacular.

Luca Evans of the Orange County Register (subscription required) wrote a very informative piece on Burns’ methods. We’ll include a few short excerpts and add some extra details about Burns’ record at USC:


Beth Burns and Randy Bennett have been friends for some time. Bennett’s own analysis and metrics created a spark of curiosity in Burns to develop a better defensive metric and a way to coach players better.



 Andrew Carpenean-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Carpenean-USA TODAY Sports

Without divulging all the details, Burns’ system is basically a point system in which players accumulate points for missed assignments. This is defense, after all — having more points is bad, not good. Players compete to give up fewer points, and they often discuss responsibility for points allowed in film sessions after games. It creates an extra layer of competition which inspires effort in players. There’s an element of accountability, but also an element of fun.


: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

USC’s Kayla Padilla played essentially perfect defense against Arizona on February 12. Why do we say this?

From Luca Evans’ story, this is what Burns told Padilla after the Arizona film study:

“I’ve been doing this chart a long time, buddy, and I don’t know anyone’s done a 0 in 30 minutes.”

“Thanks, Coach B,” Padilla responded.

Getting players such as Padilla to max out on defense is a huge part of why USC is as good as it is.


USA TODAY Sports Syndication – Louisville
USA TODAY Sports Syndication – Louisville

USC has played 25 games (through the Colorado win on Friday). The Trojans have allowed fewer than 60 points in 12, roughly half. They’ve allowed fewer than 65 points in several more games. This is a very consistent unit.


Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Destiny Littleton was an elite defender on last year’s USC team. Burns helped Littleton and the 2023 Trojans hold opponents to 60 or fewer points in regulation time (40 minutes) in 25 games. USC made the NCAA Tournament without JuJu Watkins because the defense did the heavy lifting so consistently.


 (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

JuJu Watkins is a well-rounded player and an elite competitor. She loves playing defense to begin with. Nevertheless, Burns has taken JuJu’s defensive acumen and turned it into results. JuJu is averaging 2.6 steals and 1.6 blocked shots per game as a guard. That’s outstanding. Beth Burns knows how to get maximum results on defense at USC.

Story originally appeared on Trojans Wire