Fans of the Stanford Cardinal are looking at USC women’s basketball with respect, but also annoyance, after the Trojans knocked off the Trees on Friday night in Palo Alto. USC is a legitimately good team, but the Trojans seem to save their best defensive performances for Stanford and Tara VanDerveer. Lindsay Gottlieb coached against Tara for years at Cal. Beth Burns, a veteran coach, owns considerable expertise in her own right as Gottlieb’s defensive coordinator and as a top-rate basketball mind. Gottlieb and Burns always seem to get the scouting report right when attacking Stanford’s offense. If one’s an accident and two is a trend, USC has one and a half trends going right now.
USC’s return to prominence in women’s college basketball began on January 15, 2023, with a 55-46 win over Stanford. USC bothered Stanford stars Cameron Brink and Haley Jones. Just for good measure, USC held Stanford to 50 points a few weeks later in the 2023 season. The Cardinal won, but only because they held USC to 47 points. The Trees never did solve the Gottlieb-Burns defense.
Now, here we are a year later. USC again went into Maples Pavilion and held Stanford under 60 points for a third straight time overall, a second straight time in Stanford’s gym. Cameron Brink was once again contained by the Trojans. She hit just 4 of 14 field goal attempts. She scored 11 of her 19 points at the foul line. USC’s three main frontcourt players — Rayah Marshall, Clarice Akunwafo, and Kaitlyn Davis — used all 15 fouls. The Trojans were then able to withstand Brink even after their frontcourt fouled out.
The rising star for Stanford this season is forward Kiki Iriafen. Brink got injured a few weeks ago (before coming back to the lineup). Iriafen scored 36 points with Brink out against Oregon State, in the win which gave Tara VanDerveer her record-breaking 1,203rd win, passing Mike Krzyzewski as the all-time winningest Division I college basketball coach. Iriafen averaged over 26 points in her previous four games.
Against USC, she managed only 16 points on 6-of-18 shooting. Iriafen and Brink combined to make just 10 of 32 field goal attempts. USC could not have defended the two players any better.
JuJu Watkins scoring 51 was the main highlight of Friday night. USC holding Stanford under 60 for a third straight time is the other central reason the Trojans won. The staff had the right defensive plan, and the players executed it brilliantly … again.