LOS ANGELES-Sometimes tough love is what you need to get the best out of a team. USC women’s basketball coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke is a throwback to another era in some ways. She’s tough, relentless even.
When she is on the court during a basketball game, Cooper-Dyke is all over the place, prodding her players to get to the right spot on the floor defensively or barking out instructions to get the ball moving up the court as quickly as possible.
Cooper-Dyke likes to preach execution. She drills it into her player’s heads all through a ballgame. It doesn’t matter if the Trojans are winning a game by two points or 22 points, Cooper-Dyke is always looking for ways for her team to get better. This year, the Trojans are already ahead of the curb than they were at this time last season.
For one, the Trojans still have an unblemished record after nine games. Secondly, they are doing it pretty impressively. Seven of USC’s nine victories this season have been by at least 10 points or more. The team has has clearly taken on their coach’s mentality. The Trojans are a scrappy bunch, diving for loose balls, being physical in the paint and applying full-court defensive pressure with a zeal to make one play after another.
They play hard. They play fast. In other words, the Trojans play to dominate. During this stretch of dominance, USC has averaged scoring 75 points a game, muscled their way into grabbing a little over 40 rebounds per game and collected 110 steals as a team. The Trojans have outscored their opponents thus far this season, 675-429.
This is the level of play that Cooper-Dyke expects her team to play at. She expects her team to perform at the same level at the end of a blowout as they would in the first quarter of a tightly-contested game. Long Beach State got a taste of that philosophy the hard way.
Towards the end of the Trojans’ 69-43 win against Long Beach State at the Galen Center, Cooper-Dyke was still in top end, game-mode, barking out instructions about defensive assignments and urging her team to get out on the break at every missed shot or turnover by the 49ers.
This was after USC held Long Beach State to four points in the final period, and after the Trojans had limited the visitors to just 12 points in the second half, altogether.
“If it’s going to be one word; execution,” Cooper-Dyke said. “We’re going to be in situations where every pass counts, every turnover count, and I want them to be prepared for it. And we’re going to be, and we were, in games in the (Naismith Memorial) Hall of Fame Challenge. We were in situations where every pass mattered, every bucket mattered. So when you get an offensive rebound, I want you to put it in. Don’t leave anything on the table.
“That’s a part of growing. That’s a mentality that we have to develop. That’s what I’m trying to get my team to understand. That’s why I’m always dialed in. We can be up by 20 (points) or we can be up by three. I’m always dialed in because I want us to understand that when we’re in a situation where that bucket counts, we’re making it.”
Cooper-Dyke clearly has her team on the right track this season. This is a different squad from a year ago. Last year, at the point, USC had already suffered two tough defeats, and barely won an overtime contest with Long Beach State. The undefeated Trojans used muscle and quick hands to disrupt Long Beach State’s offensive flow in the non-conference game on Sunday.
Forward Temi Fagbenle brought the muscle with 11 of her total 16 rebounds coming on the defensive end. Besides grabbing rebounds, she also used her hands to do a pretty good job at the offensive end, scoring 13 points. Fagbenle also contributed three steals in the Trojans (9-0) ninth win of the season.
Because of the strong play of Fagbenle, USC outrebounded Long Beach State, 41-28.
One of the driving points in USC’s win was how the Trojans bottled up Long Beach State’s ability to shoot from long-distance. Long Beach State made just 2 of 12 shots from 3-point range. That may have had something to do with the overall shooting by the 49ers. After surrendering 31 points in the first half to Long Beach State, the Trojans’ defense went nuclear, holding the 49ers to just 5 of 24 (20.8 percent) shooting from the field.
The quick hands for the Trojans mainly belonged to guard Jordan Adams. Adams played her usual game of being all over the place. The Trojans’ top all-around player, Adams scored 16 points to go along with her nine-rebound effort. Adams’ versatility once again flexed itself as the 6-foot-1 junior grabbed seven of those nine rebounds on the offensive end and tallied four assists and three blocks for the game.
Adams spoke on the cohesiveness of this Trojans and how that is carrying over to the way the team is playing on the court.
“I just think that this year is a lot different,” Adams said. “We all have the same goals. We’re all ready to come in here everyday and work. We’re a lot closer. I just think we’re ready to go to war with each other. We’re ready to fight for one another and get out on the court and do our thing every night.”
Next up for the Trojans is carrying their impressive record into the Women of Troy Classic, which begins Dec. 18 against Florida A & M University.