Well, Kristen Simon definitely impacted the first half — 10 points and nine rebounds served as ample evidence — but come the first three-plus minutes of the second half, the women's championship game at the GCI Great Alaska Shootout was absolutely smeared with her fingerprints.
USC's rugged junior forward backed down an opponent for a lay-in. She followed that with a steal and an outlet pass, and after a teammate missed a subsequent shot, Simon crashed the boards for two offensive rebounds and a bucket. Soon, she drained four free throws, and suddenly the Trojans' seven-point halftime lead ballooned to 13.
Although Portland delivered a spirited comeback to pull within six points in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter, Simon and company brushed aside that surge with one of their own and earned a 67-54 victory at the Alaska Airlines Center.
Simon was voted the tournament's Most Outstanding Player after piercing the Pilots for a game high-tying 20 points, a game-high 12 rebounds — six offensive boards — that marked her second straight double-double and the eighth of her career. Wednesday's performance came after she generated 18 points, 11 boards and two assists in Tuesday's 89-67 opening-round win over Missouri State.
"It was a hard fought battle, we are very fortunate to come away with the W thanks to this MVP right here," said USC coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke.
Simon enjoyed plenty of help. Junior Sadie Edwards came off the bench to match Simon's 20 points and add a team-high four assists. Senior Courtney Jaco bombed three 3-pointers in the second half on the way to 13 points and freshman Minyon Moore flexed all over the score sheet — hey, she is from Hercules, California — for 10 points, five rebounds, a team-high four steals and three assists.
Edwards and Moore joined Simon on the all-tournament team.
USC (5-1) used 14-2 run in the opening five minutes of the second half to race to a 19-point cushion at 44-25. But Portland slowly chipped away at its deficit. Ashley Gray hit six consecutive free throws, Julie Spencer added a putback and Kate Anderson hit a shot in the lane. And when Kaylie Van Loo drained a jumper early in the fourth quarter, the Pilots (1-4) trailed by six, 46-40.
Enter Jaco, Edwards and Moore. And exit Portland's comeback hopes.
Jaco swished a pair of 3-pointers, one from the left side and the other from the right baseline. Moore mixed in a free throw and a trey. And Edwards buried a couple of jumpers. Suddenly, USC's lead had ballooned back to 16 points.
"I'm extremely proud of the girls for their resiliency to come back from a large deficit, get it down to (six) and give ourselves a chance for the win," said Portland coach Cheryl Sorenson. "A couple things rolled out, a couple things rolled in for them, a couple here or there and maybe it's different, but hats off to USC."
Spencer paced Portland with 11 points and eight rebounds, Gray added nine points and eight boards, and all-tournament pick Holly Blades and Corissa Turley each added eight points. Hannah Matson of Fairbanks contributed one rebound and one steal.
The Trojans prospered even though they lost senior guard Jordan Adams four minutes into the game with an apparent left-knee injury after a collision in the key. Adams had dropped 14 points and seven rebounds on Missouri State on Tuesday.
Simon said winning the tournament title should boost a team that has four seniors and two juniors, and three sophomores and five freshmen.
"Our team is young so it gives us a lot of experience just to be in an atmosphere where the crowd is loud and the odds are against us," Simon said. "It gives (us) the confidence now so later on in the season, we can be all be together and more prepared."