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USC, UCLA Women Set for Titanic Basketball Clash

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USC, UCLA Women Set for Titanic Basketball Clash

Lauren Betts (51) of the UCLA Bruins shoots the ball in the second quarter against Avery Treadwell (32) of the Florida State Seminoles at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., on Dec. 10, 2023. (Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Dan Wood

Dan Wood

12/28/2023

Updated: 12/29/2023

Good luck making an argument that Saturday’s USC-UCLA clash at Pauley Pavilion in Westwood isn’t the biggest regular-season women’s college basketball game in Southern California history.
Good luck, too, trying to get into the storied building if you don’t already have a ticket. The game is officially a sellout, a first for UCLA’s women in the nearly 14,000-seat arena.
The Bruins go into the 5 p.m. Pacific-12 Conference opener for both teams with an 11–0 record and ranked second in this week’s Associated Press national poll, behind only South Carolina. The Trojans are 10–0 and ranked sixth.
Never in the 106 meetings between the crosstown rivals since 1971–72 have both teams entered undefeated. The combined rankings, meanwhile, are the highest in series history.
“It’s such a complement to USC and what they’ve done, and what we’ve done,” UCLA Coach Cori Close told reporters following her club’s final pre-conference game, an 85–46 victory over visiting Hawaii on Dec. 21. “It’s going to be a blast. I’m excited for everyone that’s going to get a chance to be there. It’s just going to be great basketball, great competition, and we’re going to be growing the game in Southern California for girls and women. What a cool thing to be a part of.”
Charisma Osborne (20) of the UCLA Bruins talks with head coach Cori Close of the UCLA Bruins during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, S.C., on March 25, 2023. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Charisma Osborne (20) of the UCLA Bruins talks with head coach Cori Close of the UCLA Bruins during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, S.C., on March 25, 2023. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

USC Coach Lindsay Gottlieb, whose team will be attempting to snap an eight-game losing streak against UCLA, is on the same page.
“There’s nothing ever been like this,” she said during a post-game media session after the Trojans closed their non-conference campaign with an 85–77 triumph Dec. 21 at Long Beach State. “We don’t shy away from kind of that excitement around it. I think both teams have earned it. To have the rivalry game, the proximity so close, and have both teams be so good and so exciting is just really good for women’s basketball.”
Certainly, more has been on the line in previous games played in Los Angeles, but those took place during NCAA Tournament action.
Led by program legends Cheryl Miller and twins Pamela and Paula McGee, USC won its second consecutive national championship by beating Tennessee in the 1984 final at Pauley Pavilion. Stanford followed suit with a victory over Western Kentucky in the 1992 title game at the Sports Arena.
And while the sense of anticipation for Saturday’s collision has been building at least since the season began in early November, the Trojans and Bruins will hook up again in just more than two weeks, Jan. 14 at USC’s Galen Center.
“I think both games, in both locations, will be packed, and players deserve that,” Ms. Gottlieb said.
Head coach Lindsay Gottlieb of the USC Trojans gestures in the first half of a game against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Series at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Nov. 6, 2023. The Trojans defeated the Buckeyes 83–74. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Head coach Lindsay Gottlieb of the USC Trojans gestures in the first half of a game against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Series at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Nov. 6, 2023. The Trojans defeated the Buckeyes 83–74. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Each team is also fully aware that plenty of other challenges await during what is sure to be a grueling schedule in the final season of the Pac-12 before conference realignment lands USC and UCLA in the Big Ten and other schools elsewhere.
Perennial power and three-time national champion Stanford is 10–1 and ranked ninth in the country, one notch below Colorado, which is also 10–1. Utah, meanwhile, is 10–2 and ranked 12th. And while no other Pac-12 teams appear in this week’s Top 25, all have winning records, led by Oregon State at 10–0, Washington (11–1), California (10–2) and Washington State (11–3).
“I think we’ve earned a lot of toughness and a lot of confidence, and I do think that will help us in such a challenging Pac-12 schedule,” Ms. Close said.
The Trojans-Bruins matchup offers a fascinating contrast between a USC team led by phenomenal freshman JuJu Watkins and an incredibly balanced UCLA group.
JuJu Watkins (12) of the USC Trojans drives against Taylor Thierry (2) of the Ohio State Buckeyes in the second half of their game during the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Series at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Nov. 6, 2023. The Trojans defeated the Buckeyes 83–74. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

JuJu Watkins (12) of the USC Trojans drives against Taylor Thierry (2) of the Ohio State Buckeyes in the second half of their game during the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Series at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Nov. 6, 2023. The Trojans defeated the Buckeyes 83–74. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Watkins, last season’s Gatorade national high school player of the year at Sierra Canyon in Chatsworth, leads the Trojans and ranks second in the nation in scoring at 26.8 points per game. Five times, Watkins has reached at least 30 points, breaking a USC freshman record of three set by Paula McGee and later tied by Lisa Leslie.
When teamwide illness struggles left Watkins, second-leading scorer Rayah Marshall, and fellow starter Kaitlyn Davis unavailable against Long Beach State, however, McKenzie Forbes stepped up with a career-high 36 points and fellow graduate transfer student Kayla Padilla added a season-high 16.
The Bruins feature five players averaging at least 13.4 points per game. Sophomore center Lauren Betts, a 6-foot-7 transfer from Stanford, leads the way at 16.9, while guard Charisma Osborne, a grad student, checks in at 14.5.
“I think we’ve grown a lot as a team,” Osborne told reporters after the game against Hawaii. “I think we’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with each other, finding each other good shots. I think our defense has improved so much, just like our chemistry overall. We know where we want to get Lauren the ball, or whoever it is we’re looking for.”
Dan Wood

Dan Wood

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Dan Wood is a community sports reporter based in Orange County, California. He has covered sports professionally for some 43 years, spending nearly three decades in the newspaper industry and 14 years in radio. He is an avid music fan, with a strong lean toward country and classic rock.

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