No. 25 Trojans hit the road to Washington

Women’s basketball head coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke congratulated her team Tuesday on their greatest accomplishment of the season — becoming an AP Top-25 team. In the 10th week of the season, the Women of Troy rose to take the No. 25 spot in the national rankings.

Standing in the middle of her huddled players, Cooper-Dyke asked if the team knew what they had to do to maintain that ranking in this weekend’s games against Washington and Washington State. The team answered unanimously — win.

“I love to see that focus, that determination, because it means that my girls already know what they have to do,” Cooper-Dyke said. “All the pieces might not be together yet, but they know what needs to be done.”

The Women of Troy were unranked at the start of the season, but climbed to a top 25 ranking for the first time since 2014 after upsetting UCLA Sunday in a tight 71-68 victory. Not only does the ranking bolster confidence, but it also provides an extra expectation for their games this weekend.

“It definitely makes us more of a target for teams when we come into their gym as [No.] 25,” junior guard Courtney Jaco said. “But Coach is always telling us that wearing USC across our chest means that we are someone that other teams want to beat. We’re always going to be ready to fight, ready to compete, and other teams know that. We just have to bring it.”

One of the team’s main focuses for the weekend will be junior Washington guard Kelsey Plum, the leading national scorer in women’s basketball. Averaging 27.3 points per game, Plum is a leftie who needs little space to take a shot or capitalize on a defensive mistake. Washington will base its offense on ball screens to give Plum as many offensive opportunities as possible.

To counter Plum, the Women of Troy will pressure the backcourt and focus on switching ball-screens throughout the game. Post players such as transfer Temi Fagbenle are aware that these switches might leave players rolling down low open, which will force the defense to adjust.

“A lot of our success [against Washington] will come from our defense,” Fagbenle said. “That’s where we feel strongest, I think, is in our ability to guard and pressure other teams.”

It was defense that cemented last week’s upset of UCLA. Holding the Bruins offense to only 24 points in the first half, USC shut down the Bruins’ ability to score and used offensive mistakes to generate points. Riding that UCLA victory and the AP ranking, this weekend has the potential to be a turning point in establishing the Women of Troy as a national contender. But to earn that reputation, they will stick to the same strategy they started the season with — defense first.