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Cynthia Cooper And USC Women's Basketball Tip Off New Era

Nicole Kim |
November 7, 2013 | 10:22 a.m. PST

Staff Writer

The Women of Troy executing the fast break against Westmont last Friday. (Nicole Kim/Neon Tommy).
The Women of Troy executing the fast break against Westmont last Friday. (Nicole Kim/Neon Tommy).
The USC women's basketball team kicked off their 2013-2014 season last Friday night at the Galen Center with a 73-38 victory over Westmont College. While an exhibition, the game marked the beginning of the Cynthia Cooper era at USC. After an illustrative career as two-time WNBA MVP, four-time WNBA champion, three-time WNBA All-Star and two-time NCAA champion, Cooper is finally back in Troy.

While this isn't Cooper's first head coaching job at the collegiate level (she's previously coached at Prairie View A&M University, UNC Wilmington, and Texas Southern University), it brings a special kind of pressure. But don't expect Cooper to be extra tough on her alma mater. "I don't think I need to do anything different other than probably prepare more for games," Cooper said. "I'll be coaching against teams that are not only great nationally, but the coaches are also nationally known and are very, very smart. I'm going to have to do my homework a little more, but I don't think my coaching style will change anytime soon."

From her winning experiences in the NCAA and in the WNBA as a Houston Comet, Cooper knows what it takes to be a champion. When asked what she hopes to bring back from USC's glory days in the mid-1980's, Cooper didn't answer with a specific skill or play, but rather a holistic mindset. "I want to bring back a winning mentality," she said. "A winning culture. I want to bring back the fact that when you step on the court, you have that confidence that you can win and that you can play against any team."

On Friday, that "any team" was the Warriors, located two hours west in Santa Barbara. The exhibition got off to a quick start, as senior starting forward Cassie Harberts picked up two easy baskets within the first two minutes. Harberts has recently been named to the John R. Wooden Award Preseason Top 30 list and is officially in the running for the prestigious honor awarded to the top player in college basketball. Recent recipients include Candace Parker, Maya Moore and Brittney Griner.

Harberts led the Women of Troy with 16 points on Friday night, while guards Ariya Cook and Brianna Barrett contributed with 12 and 10, respectively. Barrett was perfect from the field and the free throw line, as Harberts also led the team in rebounds with eight with sophomore starting guard Jordan Adams pitching in five boards.

It was clear in the first half that USC struggled to fight off the pesky Warriors as they went into the locker room leading 33-23. "The first half I thought we had a few 'first game jitters' and we missed a lot of layups," Cooper said post-game. "I think what we need to work on is fouling. I think we fouled way too much. We put Westmont on the free-throw line way too much." Westmont had 22 attempts to USC's 14. 

As the second half progressed, the Women of Troy began to heat up and run the show. They held Westmont to 15 points in the second half, prompting Cooper to speak up about the defensive effort. "I thought we played aggressive defensively - really good defense- both when we were in our zone and in our man, which created some easier opportunities for us offensively," the coach said. 

After a disappointing 11-20 record last year, the women's basketball team enter this season with a mission to surprise critics and prove doubters wrong. They're picked to finish 6th in the Pac-12, and if they play more like they did in the second half last Friday than in the first, an even higher finish could be in the cards.

The Women of Troy officially open season this weekend on the road, taking on U.C. Davis on Friday and Fresno State on Sunday. Their first game at home will tip off at 4 pm next Wednesday against San Diego State.

Reach staff writer Nicole Kim here.



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