LOS ANGELES – There was little drama to this surprising encore.
After picking up the program’s first Pac-12 tournament win on Thursday over Oregon State, the Washington State women’s basketball team decided it wanted to stay down here a bit longer.
It was the 11th-seeded Cougars who made hometown No. 3 seed USC look like doormats at the Galen Center on Thursday night, holding the Trojans to just 26.2 percent shooting in a stunning 69-55 upset victory that WSU essentially dominated for the final half.
In terms of seed differential, WSU’s win is the biggest upset in the history of the conference tournament, which is in its 11th year. The Cougars (13-19) are the lowest seed to reach the semifinal round.
For their efforts, they’ll face No. 2 seed California (23-8) at 2:30 p.m. Friday at the Staples Center.
“Yesterday was historic,” said coach June Daugherty, whose previous high win total at WSU was 11. “This was even better.”
The way the Cougars achieved this second consecutive improbable victory was perhaps the most stunning part. WSU scored just nine points in the game’s first 9:15, failing to get anything that resembled a good look anywhere closer than 20 feet from the basket.
So they built their lead by shooting away from the outside, making six 3-pointers, exactly half of their field-goal total in the first half, en route to a 30-25 halftime lead. Jazmine Perkins and Rosie Tarnowski made two 3-pointers each to help take advantage of USC’s offensive drought.
The Trojans (18-12) made just 8 of 33 attempts from the field in that period. They made 9 of 32 in the second half. Cook led WSU with 15 points. Perkins added 12 and Tarnowski had 11.
USC players cited WSU’s superior energy as a reason why the Cougars were able to take control. Daugherty and Perkins said that was the product of a grueling nonconference schedule ranked among the toughest in the country, as well as a preseason tournament that forced WSU to play with little rest.
“We’ve been prepared to play back to back games,” said Perkins, one of four WSU seniors who were sold on the idea of rebuilding this downtrodden program under Daugherty.
“That’s why I committed here, and it’s just nice to kind of reap the benefits of it,” said Tarnowski, a fellow senior.
Any thoughts of the overachieving Cougars running out of gas in the second half were quelled as soon as it began. WSU ripped off a 7-0 run to take a 37-27 lead with 16:01 to play, a Brandi Thomas jumper from the top of the key forcing frustrated USC coach Michael Cooper to call a timeout.
The Trojans never regrouped. They cut the lead to five points, but a pair of free throws by Perkins, a 3-pointer by Thomas, a pair of free throws from April Cook and a bucket by Hana Potter comprised a 9-0 run that put WSU ahead 46-32 with 12:44 to play.
The lead never slipped lower than eight points, largely because WSU made 10 of its 20 3-point attempts, Daugherty again joking afterward that her struggling team must have saved up all of its offense for this weekend, adding that “our defense really held serve” to help combat USC’s 51-36 rebounding edge.
The Cougars will need some more of it Friday against a Cal team its lost to 60-55 in Berkeley earlier this season.
But after the last two nights, who knows?
“We’re a confident group,” Daugherty said, “and there’s no pressure on us.”