Legends face off as USC downs Cal State LA

Cheryl Miller turns to her bench while Cynthia Cooper-Dyke keeps an eye on the court. Photo by Sue Favor.
Cheryl Miller turns to her bench while Cynthia Cooper-Dyke keeps an eye on the court. Photo by Sue Favor.

Los Angeles, Calif. – In the end, it wasn’t the final score that mattered. What was important was the reunion of two basketball legends – this time as coaches.

Cheryl Miller’s Cal State Los Angeles Golden Eagles came to USC to play Cynthia Cooper-Dyke’s Trojans in an exhibition game Friday night, on the campus where both began their storied careers and helped bring home two National Championships and one more Final Four appearance.

The Trojans, stacked with veterans and high-impact newcomers, easily handled the Division II Golden Eagles, 85-39, in front of several alumni who played with one or both of their coaches. It was about what was expected from Cooper-Dyke, who guided her team to the Pac-12 Tournament title in her first year as coach in 2014, and Miller, who took over the beleaguered Golden Eagle program six months ago. But the game meant a lot to all present.

Cheryl Miller shouts directions. Photo by Sue Favor.
Cheryl Miller shouts directions. Photo by Sue Favor.

“I hadn’t seen her in years, and it was great to get the family back together,” Cooper-Dyke said. “It’s brought back fond memories.”

Miller spent many years in television broadcasting before beginning her college coaching career at Langston University. Returning to her hometown for the first time in many years has made both her and her friends happy.

Melissa Ward, who played with both women from 1982-1986, sat courtside with other former Trojans during the game. At halftime, they called Miller over for a group photo. Ward said when USC won the conference tournament two years ago, she and other alumni were texting and calling each other frantically.

Cynthia Cooper-Dyke directs traffic. Photo by Sue Favor.
Cynthia Cooper-Dyke directs traffic. Photo by Sue Favor.

“It’s amazing to see them both here now,” she said during a timeout at Friday’s match up.

After the game, Cooper-Dyke said it is only a matter of time before Miller starts producing results at CSULA.

“She will go far in her job,” Cooper-Dyke said. “It’s only a matter of time before they get to the level of intensity and to the perfection that she expects.”

Cooper-Dyke also gave Miller high praise.

Cal State LA coach Cheryl Miller and USC coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke in the first quarter of play Friday night. Photo by Sue Favor.
Cal State LA coach Cheryl Miller and USC coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke in the first quarter of play Friday night. Photo by Sue Favor.

“I’ll go on record as saying that Cheryl Miller is the greatest female basketball player of all time,” she said.

Outside of the historic moment, the game gave USC fans a glimpse of what is to come from a roster featuring mostly upperclasswomen and newcomers.

Junior forward Kristen Simon lead the Trojans with 20 points and seven rebounds; senior guard Courtney Jaco added 17 points; and senior guard Jordan Adams grabbed 11 rebounds. A pair of freshmen – Minyon Moore and Ja’Tavia Tapley – impressed with strong second half performances, putting up 13 and 10 points, respectively.

Several former USC players came to support Cheryl Miller and Cynthia Cooper-Dyke. Photo by Sue Favor.
Several former USC players came to support Cheryl Miller and Cynthia Cooper-Dyke. Photo by Sue Favor.

Cooper-Dyke attributed the team’s slow first half to first-game jitters, but said everyone “picked themselves back up in the second half” and executed the game plan.

“The freshmen started off nervous and tentative,” she said. “But they are exactly where we wanted them to be. Sometimes in practice, they surprise us. We are excited to have them and to see them grow.”

Simon said having five freshmen on the squad has inspired her to raise her own performance level.

“I try to make sure I do everything right, to be a role model and to be the best player for the team,” she said.

Cheryl Miller questions the play of her athletes. Photo by Sue Favor.
Cheryl Miller questions the play of her athletes. Photo by Sue Favor.

Miller was her usual animated self on the sidelines during the game, dishing out encouragement and correction as situations warranted. Afterward, she was calm.

“We have a lot of work to do,” she said of the Golden Eagles.

USC’s season opener, against Hawaii, is Friday at Galen Center.

Cynthia Cooper-Dyke conducts a timeout. Photo by Sue Favor.
Cynthia Cooper-Dyke conducts a timeout. Photo by Sue Favor.

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