Saturday, 3:00 PM
(4) Pepperdine (15-2-3; 3rd – WCC; WTSR – 1.20, 3rd – WCC)
USC (12-6-2; 4th – Pac-12; WTSR – 0.96, 8th – Pac-12)
Yeah. The Trojans capped off their non-conference slate by hosting Pepperdine in late September. USC ended up giving the Waves all they could handle, finishing on top in every offensive statistical category save for the one that matters, losing 2-1. The Trojans, incredibly, held Lynn Williams without a shot on goal, though the senior stud did assist on the eventual match winner. It all adds up to what should be another mouthwatering clash on Saturday afternoon.
Who’s The Real USC? The Team That Lost Four of Five At Home or The Team That Won Four Straight on The Road?
It’s a good question. The Trojans’ inconsistencies have been frustrating to say the east. This is a team that could beat Notre Dame on the road in the regular season but draw with UC Irvine just a few weeks later. USC supporters will be hoping late form is telling, as the club heated up down the stretch and didn’t play terribly for much of the derby against much more fancied UCLA.
Can This Trojan Team Score Enough To Win A Few Games This Month?
Twelve goals in eleven games doesn’t exactly look promising considering some of the firepower USC’s going to be going against in the bracket. USC was all over the place offensively this season, though just three players finished with more than three goals on the season. The best option was often Alex Quincey, who’s a rudimentary Plan B that uses her size to muscle her way into scoring opportunities. Jamie Fink showed scoring promise in non-conference play but only scored from the penalty spot in the league. The other option is Katie Johnson, who netted three times in the league despite missing a few matches. Odds are, if the Trojans are going to put up goals, it’s going to be scrappy and from a few different sources.
But The Defense Should Bail Them Out of A Lot, Right?
USC’s defense was much more effective than the offense, giving up less than a goal a game in the league and ensuring they finished in the top third of the Pac-12. Dominique Randle and Whitney Pitalo are a solid no-frills center-back partnership, while Natalie Donaldson is a destroyer sitting in front of the back four. The players to watch will be full-backs Kayla Mills and Mandy Freeman, who have license to bomb forward and join in the attack. While that may help invigorate a sometimes stagnant offense, it also could open up gaps on the counter for Pepperdine. And there are few better on the break than the Waves.
Can Lynn Williams Go Out With A Bang?
Well, if she can’t, it certainly won’t be for a lack of trying. Williams is a shameless gunner with an atrocious usage number at twelve goals on one hundred eight shots, but she’s, simply put, a difference maker. Her pace in open space with the ball can destroy defenses, and she has a knack for scoring big goals. She had five goals and five assists in the league despite missing a game. Pepperdine is heavily dependent on Williams though, as nobody else has more than four goals. Rylee Baisden, either off the bench or as a starter should contribute with three goals this year in WCC play, while Ally Holtz had six assists in the league. But few are more important to their teams as Williams. If someone shuts her down, Pepperdine is going to struggle.
Is The Defense Enough To Get It to A College Cup?
Well, considering they’d have to beat UCLA to get there probably, you’d have to think it isn’t. But this is a sneaky good defensive unit that gave up just fourteen goals on the season and less than a goal a game in the league. Hailey Harbison and Jamie Van Horn already look like crucial pieces to the defense despite being just freshmen, while Hannah Seabert is a solid keeper. But still, this Pepperdine defense did a whole lot of bending against a BYU side that put up an insane twenty-nine shots up on them. That they still won says much, but too many more showings like that will likely spell defeat.
Is This A Legacy Game for Tim Ward?
Nobody expects Pepperdine to make it past UCLA in the Sweet Sixteen, but getting there could be a big indicator of the direction of the program. Pepperdine’s earned an unpleasant reputation for bottling it at this stage over the past half-decade, and they’ll be desperate to avoid a similar fate this time out. Ward’s probably not going to get a player as good as Williams again soon despite having some talented youngsters. USC’s hardly the easiest draw, especially this being a rematch, but Pepperdine needs a win given their seeded status.
And The Pick Is…
This is one of the toughest matches to pick, as these clubs are very evenly matched, despite Pepperdine’s seed. But it’s hard to trust the Waves’ reputation in the NCAA Tournament, and beating a Trojans squad that often just finds a way to win may be beyond them in what should be one of the first round’s most entertaining matches.