January 10, 2023 

At battle for Los Angeles, emotions run high

USC, UCLA experience all the feels

LOS ANGELES — As USC head coach Lindsay Gottlieb sat down at the podium for her postgame media availability following the Trojans’ tough 61-60 loss to crosstown rival UCLA, she couldn’t help but show emotion.

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The Trojans had led for a large portion of the game without leading scorer Kady Sissoko, who was out with an injury. They had built up a 12-point lead on the road heading into the fourth quarter. But they were blitzed by a 10-0 UCLA run to start the final period and were never able to recover from the punch.

Near tears, Gottlieb expressed her frustrations with herself for not being able to close the deal.

“I’m just devastated for our players. They pretty much did everything we asked them to do in terms of competing. There’s always mistakes obviously, and we’ll watch the film,” Gottlieb said. “When a team puts out an effort like that, I want them to be able to celebrate that in the locker room and I’m just disappointed and devastated that we couldn’t get it home, really, that I couldn’t get them home to the finish line in the fourth quarter.”

When it was UCLA head coach Cori Close’s turn to take the podium, she too was overcome with emotion. Not only did the Bruins show a lot of toughness storming back from a double-digit deficit in a game where both Charisma Osborne and Kiki Rice didn’t play as well as they have this season, but they did so in front of a crowd packed with legendary alumni.

Ann Meyers Drysdale, Noelle Quinn, Kari Korver, Nina Westbrook and Lauryn Miller were just some of the former Bruins who were in attendance to witness the comeback. But the one name that brought Close to tears was not a former basketball player. It was Cori Anderson, the great-granddaughter of legendary UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden.

As her voice quivered, Close spoke about how she stopped to chat with Anderson after the game and the emotions that followed.

“I was just listening to her talk about what she saw and thinking about the faithfulness of people who came before us,” Close said. “It always gets to me because Coach Wooden gave me so much. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t realize how lucky I am to walk in the steps that he first walked. But also all those alumni out there from all those generations. . .it just really humbles you that we get to wear these letters and that we get to represent something bigger than ourselves.”

And the matchup certainly represented something bigger than just a Pac-12 regular season game on a Sunday afternoon. Billed as the battle of Los Angeles, both teams and coaches have aimed to make this rivalry the top ticket in town in terms of women’s basketball. And it seemed fitting that the game came down to a similar ending as the first meeting back on Dec. 15.

In that game, the Trojans trailed 59-56 and had the ball for the final possession. They had tried to run a flare screen for Alyson Miura, one of their top sharpshooters, but she ended up trapped in the corner and threw a bad pass that sealed the Trojans fate.

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On Sunday, the Trojans once again found themselves down by three, 61-58, and with the ball for the final possession. They managed to get off a shot this time; Destiny Littleton received a hand off from Taylor Bigby at the top of the key and had a decent look at the potential game-tying three, it just didn’t drop.

While the Trojans had three losses coming into this game, this one just felt different.

“The feeling that you have after this one is really different than the others because of the way we competed and the feeling like we had it in our hands,” Gottlieb said. “If a loss hurts like this, then you’re doing some things right. It’s just a hard one to swallow, it’s a really hard one to swallow for me but I feel for them cause I thought we did enough to win the game.”

Gottlieb’s sentiments were echoed by junior guard Kayla Williams, who tied teammate Rayah Marshall with a team-high 15 points.

“It’s tough right now, and it’s gonna be tough. But you can’t really dwell on it too much because it’s January ninth, we have a lot of games ahead of us we have to get ready for,” Williams said. “We have to feel it now and make sure we don’t ever feel it again, learn from it and come back.”

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On the Bruins side, they got a career-high performance from freshman point guard Londynn Jones who exploded for a game-high 22 points and was key getting baskets when UCLA’s offense was struggling against the Trojan defense. She even caught the eye of Anderson who made sure to let Close know that, “that girl from the Inland Empire, she’s pretty good.”

While Jones remarked that her big performance was really just a result of all the work she’s put in to this point, she did admit that the energetic environment and big-name spectators in the crowd did stand out to her.

“This environment gets me going, definitely, having such a supportive system around us,” Jones said “The fans are so extremely supportive, always there, always encouraging. And that helps, definitely, just having my team supporting me and having each other’s backs.”

The only time these two teams will meet again this season would be in a potential matchup in the Pac-12 Tournament in March. But regardless, they’ve certainly laid the foundation for what a UCLA/USC matchup should look like.

“The game was incredible and all kinds of things,” Close said. “But when you just think about the history and what we get to participate in, it’s very humbling.”

David has been with The Next team since the High Post Hoops days when he joined the staff in 2018. He is based in Los Angeles and covers the LA Sparks, Pac-12 Conference, Big West Conference and some high school as well.

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