The ball rolled off guard Jordan Adam’s fingers and slammed into the backboard, ricocheting off the rim. Forward Kristen Simon snatched the ball, tossing it up for an unguarded shot. After only seven seconds of play, the Women of Troy took a 2–0 lead in their first exhibition game of the season.
Those seven seconds set the tone for the rest of the 89–25 victory over the Cal State San Marcos Cougars, wherein the Women of Troy never trailed. With a scrappy, turnover-focused defense and an offense fired by assertive play in the paint, USC thrived in a blazing start to their season.
The Women of Troy possessed a noticeable advantage over the Cougars — their height. Only two San Marcos players checked in at 6 feet, with a third of the team measuring in under 5-foot-6-inches. With a roster boasting six players over 6 feet, USC dominated both offensively and defensively in the paint.
Down low, Simon and graduate transfer Temi Fagbenle led the Women of Troy to score a whopping 78 of their 89 points in the paint. Fagbenle muscled her way through double-teams, making patient, confident moves through players to collect 28 total points on the game. Simon commandeered the boards on both sides, roping in five steals and 15 rebounds. After struggling with high-low passes — which are a focus for head coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke — in the first half, the guards began to whip the ball into the post with more assertion, giving both Fagbenle and Simon wide-open opportunities under the basket.
“My players look for me and the posts when they get the ball, and that was really working today,” Simon said. “I think we’ve got the talent and the chemistry to make that style [of play] work, but we’ve got to work on fusing it all together right now.”
At the top of the key, senior Brianna Barrett and junior Courtney Jaco provided an aggressive spark that fueled a fast-paced transition offense for USC. Adams and Jaco thrived off an in-your-face style of defense, guarding players tightly. Unafraid to swat at the ball in the air and in players’ hands, they generated 12 turnovers and turned each into a transition drive.
In transition, the Women of Troy found and hit their stride. These drives came off of turnovers and rebounds alike. Whenever a player saw a hole in the San Marcos defense, offensive pressure came quickly, leading to 24 points off fast breaks and 36 points off turnovers. Even the bigger post-position players like the 6-foot-4-inch Fagbenle went coast-to-coast for fast-breaks, setting a pace that exhausted the Cougars.
“Our focus today was defend, rebound, run,” Cooper-Dyke said. “We knew that if we had to play half-court, they would sag and it would be harder to get inside. So we wanted to push them out of their comfort zone, where we could control the tempo of the game.”
The Women of Troy still displayed room for improvement in the second half, as they switched focus to outside shooting. From behind the three-point line, the team’s shooting accuracy dropped to zero percent, with not a single shot falling from outside the line. Yet the team’s efficiency in the paint made this lack of outside shooting — which could become a weakness against more evenly matched opponents — seem unimportant.
In the end, the team cemented their win with the style of play that was their bread and butter in the first half — transition give-and-go drives for lay-ups, steals up top from Adams and physical post moves from Fagbenle and Simon. This gritty, high-tempo style kept San Marcos from settling into an offensive rhythm and provided adaptability on both ends of the court. It’s a style that the Women of Troy hope to maintain for the rest of this season.
“What we are striving for is to be able to beat any and every team in our conference,” Fagbenle said. “Today proved that we are good enough to do that, but we will have to improve in every aspect of our game to transfer what we did today into games against the teams that we have coming up next.”