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Coach Lindsay Gottlieb's USC Trojans won the last Pac-12 Women's Tournament as we know it Sunday, as conference realignment is irrevocably changing things out west. USC found a 74-61 win over Stanford in the final, which proved to be a full-circle moment for Gottlieb. 

It was almost 20 years ago when Gottlieb coached her very first Pac-12 game. At the time, she was 27 years old and an assistant at Cal. She had to take over head-coaching duties when Joanne Boyle needed a week off for family matters. As if it were scripted, it turns out Gottlieb found herself across the court from Tara VanDerveer.

"It was of course the Bay Area rivalry, Stanford vs. Cal. I'm 27 years old, and there is Tara on the other side," Gottlieb recounted. "Oh, my goodness. We lost that game, but it was close."

Fast forward to March 10, 2024 and Gottlieb coached her last Pac-12 game against none other than VanDerveer. This time, her team came out on top, and Gottlieb won a title that has meant so much to her throughout the years. 

"It is meaningful to me to get the championship in the last one, in this iteration of what it looks like," Gottlieb said. " ... I don't know that I'd be in coaching if it wasn't for Tara and people like her who did it when there was no money and none of this. They paved the way for us."

As women's basketball continues to grow, Gottlieb said she feels the Pac-12 was the first conference to really invest in women's sports, and the growth has been quite evident. In women's basketball, the Pac-12 has been the nation's most competitive conference this season, as shown by the six teams that entered March ranked in the AP Top 25 poll. 

VanDerveer, who became the winningest coach in college basketball history earlier this season, echoes Gottlieb's sentiment. She said seeing coaches like Gottlieb succeed has been one of the best things she has witnessed in the Pac-12.

"I think it's great. ... We have so many great young women coaches in our conference," VanDerveer said. "To play this level of competition, whether it's Adia Barnes or Lindsay, JR Payne, Cori [Close] -- they're all doing really, really well. And I'm proud of them. I'm sorry this is the last conference game and the last time that we'll be playing them. But it's been a great ride."

Sunday marks the end of an era. 10 of the current Pac-12 teams will be moving to a different conference. Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah will be joining the Big 12, while Stanford and Cal are heading to the ACC. USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington are moving onto the Big Ten. 

While Gottlieb will miss the Pac-12, she is choosing to be grateful for everything the conference gave her, and she is already looking forward to conquering the next chapter for USC.

"The conference has just been an unbelievable platform for female athletes," Gottlieb said. "Really special conference in terms of the values and what these schools represent, and there's obviously just some sadness in terms of this being the last one, [and] at the same time a lot of pride in us winning the last one as a group. Like I said, this group will be remembered forever for that.

"And these [graduating players] will be off running the world or doing whatever they do next, but [Rayah Marshall] and I will try and take the next thing to the Big Ten and say, 'Let's be the first one to win the new Big Ten.' We're excited for those challenges, too."