Lindsay Gottlieb has made USC women’s basketball the place to be once again

No. 9 USC's upset of No. 2 UCLA in front of a sold out Galen Center Sunday highlighted the rise of the Trojans' women's basketball program under head coach Lindsay Gottlieb.

LOS ANGELES—”Un f-ing believable.”

Those were some of USC women’s basketball head coach Lindsay Gottlieb’s first words when she took the microphone in front of a Galen Center record crowd of 10,657 fans Sunday afternoon. The No. 9 Trojans had just knocked off No. 2 UCLA 73-65, handing the Bruins their first loss of the season, and the building was rocking.

“They used to tell us that no one came to watch women’s basketball at USC,” Gottlieb added. “Look at us now.”

Sunday afternoon marked the culmination of USC women’s basketball’s return to national prominence under Gottlieb. When she was hired in the spring of 2021, the once-dominant program had largely become an afterthought in the Los Angeles sports landscape. After being one of the top programs in the country in the 1980s and 1990s, the Women of Troy had made the NCAA Tournament just three times in the first two decades of the 21st century, and just once since 2006. They routinely drew fewer than 500 fans at home games, and rarely created any sort of a buzz around campus. The program had become, for all intents and purposes, irrelevant.

That changed, however, with the arrival on campus of Gottlieb, who took Cal to the Final Four in 2013 and had spent the previous two years as an assistant coach with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. Determined to hire someone that would make the program relevant again, then-USC Athletic Director Mike Bohn was able to lure Gottlieb away from the professional game by making her an offer that she ultimately could not refuse.

After experiencing struggles in year one, Gottlieb led the Women of Troy to a 21-10 record last season and their first NCAA Tournament appearance in nearly a decade. With the arrival of top recruit Juju Watkins on campus, expectations entering the 2023-2024 campaign were as high as they have been for the program in a long time. The hype only grew as the Trojans got off to a 12-1 start and a top ten ranking in the AP poll.

With the team starting to pile up wins, fans began to take notice. On Sunday, they started lining up outside Galen Center more than three hours before tipoff. By the time the teams took the court for warmups, the building was packed to the brim, with hundreds more fans crowded outside the building, hoping to snag some of the last available tickets.

“LA likes winners,” Gottlieb said following the victory. “They like a show. They show up when you’re good.”

“The feel in that building [today] was just electric.”

Obviously, revitalizing interest in a program does not happen overnight. While Sunday afternoon was an incredible atmosphere, the Trojans have drawn more than 3,000 fans at a home game just two other times this season. It’s one thing to sell out the building for a top ten matchup vs. a crosstown rival. Packing the house on a regular basis, especially in a city like Los Angeles, where sports fandom is known to be rather fickle, is a different level of challenge.

That challenge, however, is not one that Gottlieb has shied away from. Since the day that she arrived on campus, Gottlieb has had a vision for what the program can be. She knows that if she carries that vision out, the fans will continue to come.

“I think the vision was that USC women’s basketball should be great, and could be great,” Gottlieb said. “This was the goal and the dream, and it’s all going to come together.”

“It is really a beautiful thing to see it kind of happening. We’re not done, but this is what USC women’s basketball can and should be.”