USC women’s basketball team starts fresh with interim coach

The USC women’s basketball team began to undergo a change in culture last season with the hiring of Lindsay Gottlieb, a former Cleveland Cavaliers assistant coach and successful California head coach.

The culture change is still underway, but momentarily without Gottlieb, who was out on maternity leave for most of the fall and is set to return sometime this season.

Associate head coach Beth Burns has taken the reigns as a worthy temporary replacement. Burns has been with the program for four years and before that, became San Diego State’s winningest coach and helped lead Louisville to two Final Four and two Elite Eight appearances as an assistant.

“I’m trying to make decisions that I think she would make,” Burns said, referring to Gottlieb. “When you lead, you have to be able to lead comfortably and confidently, and I’m trying to lead as best I can the way I think she wants us to. And it’s just a little tricky.”

Burns has had fresh talent to work with. Six players return from last year’s roster, and eight have been added.

USC was dealt a blow when leading scorer Jordyn Jenkins, who averaged 14.8 points and 6.7 rebounds a game, transferred to the University of Texas at San Antonio. That leaves room for returning sophomore Rayah Marshall to fill a major role.

Marshall led the Trojans in blocks last season with 71 and was the third-leading scorer with 11.2 points in addition to 7.7 rebounds per game. This season, she’s one of few players who can play at forward on a guard-heavy team.

“I don’t care if I have to play the one,” Marshall said. “I want to help my team win, so I would just say literally play my role whether I’m in as the five or the four. I can rebound at any position, anything. The intangibles are all the same.”

The arrival of 6-foot-2 forward Kadi Sissoko, a grad transfer from Minnesota, could help elevate Marshall’s game and the offense as a whole. Destiny Littleton, Okako Adika and Rokia Doumbia are three more grad transfers who add experience.

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“She is leaps and bounds ahead of anybody else,” Burns said of Sissoko. “Being around Kadi will expedite Rayah’s progress because Kadi attacks everything that she does. She plays with great tempo. She has great fitness. She has an expanded skill set.”

The only true freshman to join the team is Aaliyah Gayles, a top recruit out of Las Vegas who, according to reports, was shot 10 times at a house party in North Las Vegas in April. She was one of four people shot at the party. She had three surgeries as part of her recovery.

USC was picked to finish ninth in the Pac-12 women’s basketball preseason coaches poll after going 12-16 overall and 5-12 in conference play last season. With an almost entirely new team and an experienced duo of coaches leading, the Trojans get to start anew.

“They always like bring up how we finished last year and I just forget because it was just so, like, below .500 that we just kind of tried to forget about last year,” senior Alyson Miura said. “And honestly, Lindsey always says we’re not referencing last year and rightfully so. We’re such a different team.”

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