Pac-12 preview: the University of Southern California

This is the twelfth in an annual season preview series of the Pac-12 teams.

USC had momentum last season, and had racked up only two losses by mid-January. They entered the AP top 25 poll, and then the bottom fell out.

Starters Brianna Barrett and Jordan Adams were declared academically ineligible to play, and the Trojans lost nine of their 14 regular season games after that. They finished eighth place in the Pac-12, and fell in the second round of the conference tournament.

The bad news for USC is that top scorer and rebounder Temi Fagbenle (13.6 points, 8.7 rebounds per game) graduated, as did Barrett. The good news is that most everyone else on the high-scoring roster is back, including Adams (12.8 points, 7.7 rebounds per game).

Junior forward Kristen Simon (10.7 points, 8 rebounds per game) started every game in 2015-2016. Junior guard Sadie Edwards (11.3 points per game) started 20 of 22 games before being injured. Senior point guard Courtney Jaco (10.1 points per game) also returns, as do key reserves Aliyah Mazyck, Alexis Lloyd and Marguerite Effa.

Freshmen newcomers could make a difference for the Trojans right away.

Guard Valerie Higgins helped the USA’s U18 team win gold at the FIBA Americas Championship over the summer. Ja’Tavia Tapley, a forward from Florida, was ranked 39th overall in the 2016 class and was the sixth-ranked small forward in the nation. Australian forward Dani Milisic has had extensive International playing experience and helped her country win a gold medal in 2012.

Other freshmen include Asiah Jones, a highly-touted, high-scoring forward from South Carolina, and Minyon Moore, a Northern California native.

Coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke has seen the highs and lows since she got to USC, from winning the Pac-12 Tournament her first season to seeing a mass exodus of players the next year.

She said this season’s team is diverse and exciting, with a lot of potential.

“I’m really excited about the balance that we have on the team this year,” Cooper-Dyke said. “We have really experienced veterans and a very versatile group of newcomers that I think combine to make us really dynamic and dangerous. I have high hopes for this team. It’s a fun group and one with a lot of different skill sets for us to use this season.”

The Trojans will take on Texas A&M and Grambling State before beginning conference play at home Dec. 30, against Colorado.