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Women of Troy open return to Tourney with win

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- First-year Southern California coach Mark Trakh greeted his players in the locker room by shouting, "Welcome to the big time!"

The Women of Troy are trying to re-establish themselves as a perennial women's basketball power, and this was a decent start.

Playing in its first NCAA Tournament in eight years, ninth-seeded USC showed off its balance, depth and quickness on Saturday in a 65-49 victory over eighth-seeded Louisville in the first round of the Kansas City Regional.

Chloe Kerr scored 14 points, Camille LeNoir contributed 13, Kim Gipson added 12 and Jamie Funn had 10 for USC (20-10), which reached 20 wins for the first time since 1997 -- the last time it won a tournament game.

"There's no superstars on the team," said forward Eshaya Murphy. "I think that's every team's worst nightmare. They have to do a scouting report on all of us. Any player can step up any time."

The Women of Troy move to the second round and to face top-seeded Michigan State on Monday.

"I've never felt like this before," Gipson said. "It's not just another game. It means so much more."

Louisville's first tournament appearance in four years ended quickly. Sophomore center Jazz Covington, who averaged nearly 18 points per game, had a frustrating afternoon and finished with 13 points after some late layups once the game was out of reach.

"We wanted her to be a passer and not an offensive threat," Trakh said. "Every time she got the ball, we wanted her to give it up and then make it hard for her to get it back."

USC consistently anticipated cross-court passes on defense and came up with 12 steals after switching to a zone early in the first half.

"They might have scored 80, 90 points if we played straight man," Trakh said.

Missy Taylor scored 11 points and Connie Neal made three 3-pointers for the Cardinals (22-9), who were outrebounded 45-32 and shot 35.8 percent (19-for-53) from the floor.

"I think the most frustrating thing was that we didn't play like a Louisville team wants to play or like the Louisville team that's played most of the season," coach Tom Collen said. "I'm disappointed we had the stage and we didn't take advantage of it and didn't do what we wanted to do."

After winning two national titles, in 1983 and 1984 with Cheryl Miller, and reaching the final eight in 1994 with Lisa Leslie, USC hasn't been the same. But Trakh, after arriving from Pepperdine, put up a sign in the gym that read, "Bring it back." With two freshmen and a sophomore in the starting lineup, the program looks like it's pointed in the right direction.

Eight different players led USC in scoring this season, and seven of them averaged 6.9 points or more per game. Rachel Woodward, one of USC's two seniors, sank back-to-back jumpers during an 8-0 run that put the Women of Troy in front, 24-20 with 2½ minutes left before halftime.

Then Southern Cal ran away with it in the second half. Kerr's turnaround in the lane made it 53-31 and capped an 18-0 spurt, a scoring drought that the Cardinals didn't end for 7½ minutes.

"They started hitting every shot, and we couldn't get a defensive stop," guard Katie Olson said. "Once they got that 20-point lead, we couldn't do anything about it."

Had the Women of Troy shot from long range like they normally do, it would've been much more of a rout. USC, whose 186 3-pointers (more than six per game) this season is a school record, went just 3-for-18 from beyond the arc. Freshman Brynn Cameron, who broke USC's individual season record for 3-pointers, went 0-for-3 -- the first time she failed to make a 3-pointer in a Women of Troy victory.