USC Women Roll Into Two More Road Games
Dec. 1, 2009
The USC women are back on the mainland this week but stay on the road for two more games. The Women of Troy (3-3) first take their winning momentum -- generated from back-to-back upsets over ranked teams last week -- down to Long Beach, Calif., for a game against Long Beach State (3-3), which is now coached by former USC player and assistant coach Jody Wynn, at 7 p.m. on Thursday (Dec. 3). USC will then head back east again for a visit to No. 11 Duke (5-1) in a 2 p.m. ET game in Durham, N.C., on Sunday (Dec. 6).
This week's games will have live audio broadcast by Chris Fisher at usctrojans.com. Live stats through GameTracker also will be available online through the women's basketball page at usctrojans.com.
IN THE NATION
USC is unranked but receiving votes in the national polls. Long Beach State is unranked, and Duke ranks No. 11 according to AP and No. 12 in this week's ESPN/USA Today poll.
USC anticipates the return of McDonald's All-American Jacki Gemelos in January 2010 after the 2006 top recruit has been sidelined for the past three seasons with knee injuries. Out for the season with ACL injuries are 2007 McDonald's All-American Stefanie Gilbreath, freshman Vicky Tagalicod, and sophomore Michelle Jenkins, who suffered her season-ending knee injury (left ACL) on Nov. 19 vs. Gonzaga.
USC had a largely successful run at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands last week, as the Trojans took second place in the Reef Division with a 2-1 record. USC opened with a 66-51 Thanksgiving Day loss to Rutgers before bouncing back for a pair of big upsets as the Trojans shocked No. 13 Texas 61-54 and then topped No. 19 Mississippi State 64-60. Poor shooting plagued the Trojans in their loss to Rutgers as USC shot a season-low 25 percent from the floor. Ashley Corral had a game-high 24 points for the Women of Troy, but USC could not keep pace offensively with Rutgers in the losing effort, despite a perfect 12-for-12 outing from the free-throw line. The next day, however, the Trojans put together a balanced game with a much improved shooting output as USC stayed ahead of No. 13 Texas by shooting 46 percent from the floor and getting four players in double figures. Briana Gilbreath led USC with 13 points while Aarika Hughes and Kari LaPlante each had 12. Meanwhile, Corral served up a career-high eight assists and nine rebounds. For USC's third game in three days and sixth straight game against a 2009 NCAA Tournament team, the Trojans faced No. 19 Mississippi State and got another impressive win. Thanks in part to clutch free throws late in the game from Gilbreath and Corral along with a career-high 14 points from Hughes on 6-of-8 shooting, USC dealt MSU a 64-60 blow that boosted the Trojans to a 3-3 overall record.
The 49ers are 3-3 overall after falling 83-66 at Miami and beating Rice 68-64 last week. Karina Figueroa leads LBSU in scoring with 18.2 points per game. Head coach Jody Wynn is in her first season at LBSU after serving as an assistant at USC for five seasons. The 49ers went 8-21 last season, returning 11 letterwinners from that team, including four starters. USC is 19-29 all-time against Long Beach State, having lost three in a row to the 49ers before the Trojans beat LBSU 85-50 in 2006 at the Galen Center.
The No. 11 Blue Devils are 5-1 after beating Western Kentucky 70-47 and Marquette 74-43 last week at the Caribbean Challenge. Jasmine Thomas leads Duke in scoring with 14. 2 point per game. Head coach Joanne McCallie is in her second season with the Blue Devils, who went 25-10 overall and reached the NCAA Sweet Sixteen last season. Nine letterwinners return from that team, including four starters. USC is 0-3 all-time against Duke, with the Blue Devils getting a win in overtime 97-89 last season at USC's Women of Troy Basketball Classic.
USC turned some heads in its opening weekend of play, as the Trojans took No. 11 Xavier to overtime in USC's season opener at the Galen Center. The Women of Troy recovered from an eight-point halftime deficit to rally back and force overtime against the Musketeers. Size advantage came through in overtime for Xavier, however, with the Musketeers pulling through for an 81-71 win. Sophomore point guard Ashley Corral led the way for USC with a career-high 25 points, including five 3-pointers. Two days later, USC went up against another tournament team in Fresno State. Again, USC trailed at halftime -- this time by three points -- and even fell behind by seven in the second half before generating a comeback to win. USC held the Bulldogs scoreless for almost six minutes to take back the lead, and a late-game steal from Briana Gilbreath helped the sophomore to a team-high 17 points while also helping clinch a 68-63 win for USC -- head coach Michael Cooper's first collegiate coaching victory. Corral added a career-high seven assists in the win over Fresno State.
Youth reigned supreme for the Trojans in their first weekend of play, led by the All-American sophomore tandem of Briana Gilbreath and Ashley Corral. Corral had back-to-back career highs, topping out with 25 points against No. 11 Xavier and then serving up seven assists against Fresno State. Gilbreath pushed through with 19 points in the opener and then 17 points to lead the Trojans in game two. Corral has continued to raise the bar for herself in big games, as she picked up Paradise Jam Reef Division All-Tournament Team honors after 23 points vs. Rutgers and career-high rebounding and assists marks in USC's wins over No. 13 Texas and No. 19 Mississippi State.
MAKING HER MARK
USC true freshman Christina Marinacci has come up consistent and strong for the Trojans in her first season at Troy. She's averaging 7.2 points per game to go along with 4.5 rebounds in her 18.5 minutes per game off the bench. A McDonald's All-American, Marinacci is one of two incoming freshmen to the Trojan roster this season, but will be the only freshman on the court this year following a season-ending knee injury suffered by fellow freshman Vicky Tagalicod in late October.
Just across town, Michael Cooper had been getting a USC history lesson for the past eight years. Now, Cooper is making his own place in the Trojan history books. USC's new head coach was at the helm of the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks -- starring Trojan great Lisa Leslie -- through two WNBA Championships and five Western Conference titles. This season, Cooper takes his hoops smarts to the collegiate level as the man in charge of the 2009-10 USC women. Together with a well-rounded staff of associate head coach Ervin Monier and assistants Kelley Gibson and Mary Wooley, Cooper (who as a player was an NBA champion Los Angeles Laker for 12 seasons) takes over a Women of Troy roster heaped with potential and balanced by experience and youth.
Following last season's 17-15 overall record, which was USC's sixth consecutive winning season and fifth straight with at least 17 wins, five Women of Troy earned All-Pac-10 honors. Two of those players -- point guard Camille LeNoir and center Nadia Parker -- have graduated. The other three -- Ashley Corral, Briana Gilbreath and Heather Oliver -- accounted for almost 40 percent of USC's scoring in 2008-09. Thanks to the 3-point savvy of USC's lineup, USC ranked second in the Pac-10 in 3-point percentage (.348) and second in overall offense (72.9 ppg) last season. The 2009 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, Briana Gilbreath was USC's third leading scorer and second leading rebounder last season. By her side is fellow sophomore Corral, who set the high 3-point mark for the Trojans and also won Pac-10 acclaim in her freshman year. On the senior side of things, Pac-10 All-Defensive honoree and noted 3-point threat Oliver returns along with captain Aarika Hughes and the versatile Hailey Dunham. Altogether, USC has nine players returning from active duty on the 2008-09 roster.
POWER DOWN LOW
Anchoring the paint for her third season at Troy is junior center Kari LaPlante, who appeared in every game last season and looms large as a 6-foot-5 threat down low. Sophomore Michelle Jenkins also saw time on the post in her first year as a Trojan, but has been sidelined for the season with a knee injury. Seniors Aarika Hughes and Hailey Dunham both played the post in spurts last season. Both boast plenty of talent in the guard slots as well, but the seniors' size and strength make them a viable option for the Trojans at the post as well. Freshman Christina Marinacci has been a quick fit into the paint for the Women of Troy, with more backup coming from Michelle Franco in Jenkins' absence.
ON THE COMEBACK
For the past few seasons, a pair of Trojans have been waiting in the wings to join their teammates in competition. Both McDonald's All-Americans on the way out of their high school careers, Jacki Gemelos and Stefanie Gilbreath both fell prey to repeat knee injuries and have yet to see gametime as Women of Troy. Gemelos has been sidelined since entering USC in 2006 - missing three complete seasons and likely out until January 2010 as she heals up from a fourth knee surgery. Gilbreath also came to USC after undergoing knee surgery in 2007 and was on pace to play alongside her younger sister Briana for their first seasons in 2008, but Stefanie reinjured her knee and missed the 2008-09 season. In another frustrating turn of events, Stefanie has suffered another knee injury during the offseason and will be out once again for her third consecutive year on the sidelines.
If you're keeping count, the return of Jacki Gemelos to action will bulk up the tally of active McDonald's All-Americans on the USC roster to four. With Gemelos and Stefanie Gilbreath as the resident All-Americans who very unfortunately fell victim to injuries, 2008 McDonald's All-Americans Ashley Corral and Briana Gilbreath move into relative veteran status. Gemelos, Corral and the Gilbreath sisters can now count one more elite prep product among their posse, as incoming freshman Christina Marinacci joins the USC roster as an All-American honoree for the 2009-10 campaign.
PAC-10 COMES HOME
As in 2009, postseason play kicks off on USC's home court. At the 2009 Pac-10 Tournament at the Galen Center, the Trojans served up a quarterfinal upset of then-No. 16 Arizona State before taking down No. 2 California in the semifinals. The Trojans turned a lot of heads with their late push during the conference tourney, and they'll have a chance to take the tournament by storm once again with the 2010 Pac-10 Tournament coming back to the Galen Center from March 11-14.