The Loop

Time is running out for USC, Alabama

__BRYAN, TEXAS—USC women's coach__Andrea Gaston said all the right things to her team Thursday afternoon when it met after the second round at The Traditions Club. There's 36 holes left, still time to mount a comeback. After all earlier this spring the top-ranked squad in the Golf World/NGCA coaches' poll was in seventh place at the Sugar Bowl Intercollegiate with two rounds to play but rallied to take the title. With four wins this season, including the Pac-10 Championship and the West Regional, this group is too talented to think all is lost.

Still, it was hard to get over the fact that with two rounds to play at the NCAA Women's Championship, the Trojans were 28-over par, 20 shots back of the clubhouse leader UCLA with the afternoon wave still to play.

No USC golfer has shot better than a 73 in their 10 combined rounds, senior Lizette Salas posting that score Thursday morning. Sophia Popov, in consideration for both freshmen of the year and national player of the year honors, has posted rounds of 78 and 76. During her 29 rounds played this season, she has shot 75 or worse only five times, all of them coming at The Traditions Club, which also hosted the NCAA Preview.

While expecting to contend for its third national title since 2003, USC did come into the championship short-handed, with All-American candidate__Lisa McCloskey__ sitting out the event due to a rib injury suffered at Pac-10s. Missing McCloskey's potential low scores certainly would seem to explain part of their troubles, but Gaston wasn't ready to hang the blame there.

"A lot of people are asking do you think not having Lisa in the lineup [hurt you]," Gaston said. "Today if you look at our scores and the way we played, it wouldn't have made any difference. We just didn't get it done out there. And I think the biggest place that we're struggling in on the greens. We don't seem to be making any putts."

It wasn't just USC that was searching for answers at the midway point of the championship. Third-ranked Alabama, fresh off a victory at the East Regional and a winning at The Traditions Club during the NCAA Preview last September, also had high expectations entering the week only to see the team not play up to its potential through 36 holes, posting the same 28-over score while playing alongside UCLA and USC.

"I'm surprised with the way we played today," Alabama women's coach Mic Potter said after the Crimson Tide shot a 15-over 303 in the second round. "I thought we felt good coming into the round, and the warm up looked like we had control of our golf swings. But it is pretty clear we are not committed on all our shots."

No Crimson Tide play shot better than a 74, with freshman Stephanie Meadow's five-over 149 being the best of the team's five individual scores.

Like Gaston, Potter believes there is a comeback left his in squad but knows they have no more margin for error.

"The tournament is only half over, and we are a good team that is capable of shooting a low score," Potter said. "We are not hitting good shots right now and we have to find a way to get better."

The problem: they have only 36 holes left to do that