Leslie, Braxton lead U.S. national team to 88-64 victory over USC
LOS ANGELES -- Southern California's Allison Jaskowiak figured if the Trojans lost to the U.S. national team by 40 points, it wouldn't be too bad.
"That was our goal, actually," USC coach Mark Trakh said.
So it was pretty shocking when the upstart Trojans took an 11-point lead before leaving the Galen Center floor with a 36-33 halftime advantage over the national team in their exhibition game Tuesday night.
"I was sitting in the locker room, like, `What if we win?' The impossible became the possible," Jaskowiak said with a grin.
Shortly thereafter, the possible became the impossible again. Kara Braxton scored 10 points in the first four minutes of the second half, Diana Taurasi added three straight 3-pointers, and the national team was on its way to an 88-64 victory over the Trojans.
Former USC star Lisa Leslie had 25 points and 10 rebounds, Braxton added 21 points and Taurasi had 14 points, nine rebounds and four assists for the Americans, who are 7-0 on their eight-game tour against college teams that began Oct. 31 and finishes Thursday night at No. 5 Stanford.
The U.S. has beaten its seven opponents by an average of 25.6 points including a 75-24 triumph Sunday night at Texas A&M. USC is the only unranked team among its foes.
"They should be ranked," U.S. coach Anne Donovan said. "This is a very good team."
Trakh didn't disagree, saying: "I think we're going to have a good team. I'm very encouraged by the way we played, the enthusiasm we showed. I'm very proud of the way we played against them. I know they were tired."
The U.S. came out with much greater intensity in the second half, dominating USC at both ends of the court. With Braxton and Taurasi leading the way, the national team outscored the Trojans 23-5 to start the half for a 56-41 lead, and USC wasn't closer than 11 points after that.
The Americans outrebounded USC 50-24 and outscored the Trojans by 35 points after falling behind 29-18 in the first 13 minutes.
"They were right up there with some teams we played," Leslie said. "I was excited that SC came out and gave us a really strong game because I'm a Trojan at heart."
But, Leslie quickly added, she didn't have any mixed emotions.
"I don't want to be on the losing end against any team," she said.
The closest game the U.S. has played on the tour was an 83-72 victory before a crowd of 13,927 at No. 1 Tennessee. The other five wins came over No. 2 Connecticut, No. 3 Maryland, No. 11 Texas A&M, No. 13 Baylor and No. 15 Arizona State.
The game was Leslie's first in Los Angeles since she delivered a daughter, Lauren, on June 15. It was also her first game at the year-old Galen Center on campus.
"She built this arena," Taurasi said.
Leslie said she still has a long way to go to get up to speed.
"On a scale of 1-to-10, I'm a 4," she said. "I'm not quite there. The one thing I see that's the worst part of my game is the timing."
Hailey Dunham led USC with 14 points and six assists. Morghan Medlock added 12 points and Brynn Cameron scored 11 for the Trojans.
"It's such a great experience playing this team," Trakh said. "They have some of the greatest basketball players in the world. The thing that's really special about them is the way they carry themselves. They're great ambassadors for the game."
Leslie has won three WNBA MVP awards with the Los Angeles Sparks, and coach Michael Cooper arrived early to watch his star player who sat out last season to give birth to her first child.
"She looks good," Cooper said at halftime. "Obviously, she's still got a ways to go, but it's great that she's out there playing. We're just glad she's going to be back next season."
Leslie, who scored 17 points after halftime, was a three-time All-American at USC from 1992-94 and the national player of the year as a senior. The school retired her No. 33 along with Cheryl Miller's No. 31 in a ceremony last fall.
The 35-year-old center received a loud ovation from the sparse crowd during pregame introductions, and responded by scoring six points in the first 3½ minutes to spark the national team to an 11-4 lead.
But USC quickly bounced back thanks in part to some cold shooting by the national team. Aarika Hughes and Jaskowiak made 3-pointers to get the Trojans going, and Cameron added eight points during a 25-7 spurt that put the Trojans on top by 11 points.
That seemed to awaken the national team, which outscored the Trojans 15-4 to tie the game before Cameron's 3-pointer with 6 seconds left before halftime gave USC the lead at the break.
USC lost its season-opener at UC Santa Barbara 69-63 in overtime Sunday.
A moment of silence was observed before the game in honor of Louis J. Galen, a businessman who donated $35 million to help build the Galen Center. He died Monday of heart failure at age 82.
The 10,258-seat arena opened last season and is home to USC's men's and women's basketball and volleyball teams.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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