USC Women Are Third-Seeded Hosts Of Pac-10 Tournament

March 10, 2010

THIS WEEK
Coming off last year's first-ever run to the Pac-10 Tournament title match, the Women of Troy again settle in on their home court at the Galen Center for this season's 2010 State Farm Pac-10 Tournament. A strong five-game win streak in the final stretch of regular-season action carried the Trojans to a 12-6 finish and the No. 3 seed into this year's tourney, which runs March 11-14 at the Galen Center. Third-seeded USC (18-11) will open in the quarterfinals against No. 6 seed Oregon (16-14) at 5 p.m. on Friday (March 12). A win there would push the Women of Troy into a 5 p.m. semifinal on Saturday (Match 13) -- potentially against No. 2 seeded crosstown rival UCLA. The conference championship game -- where an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament goes up for grabs -- is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Sunday (March 14).

FOLLOW ALONG
Live audio of USC's games will be provided through Trojans All-Access at usctrojans.com, with coverage provided by Chris Fisher and USC's all-time 3-point leader Brynn Cameron. Live stats through GameTracker for all games also will be available online through the women's basketball page at usctrojans.com. The first six games of the tournament will have live video streaming available through the Pac-10 web site at www.pac-10.org. Saturday's semifinals and Sunday's championship game will be televised live by FSN.

IN THE NATION
USC remains unranked in the national polls this week. Stanford is the Pac-10's highest ranked team at No. 2, and UCLA is ranked No. 23 in the latest ESPN/USA Today poll.

SEEDINGS
Conference champion Stanford (28-1, 18-0 Pac-10) is the top seed into the Pac-10 Tournament for the 10th straight season. UCLA (22-7, 15-3) is the No. 2 seed ahead of third-seeded USC (18-11, 12-6). Cal (17-12, 11-7) picked up the No. 4 seed, with Arizona State (17-12, 9-9) taking No. 5. Oregon (16-14, 7-11) got the No. 6 seed in a tiebreaker over No. 7 seed Washington (12-16, 7-11), due to the Ducks' win over USC earlier this season. Arizona (13-16, 6-12) finished with the No. 8 seed, with Washington State (8-21, 3-15) at No. 9 and Oregon State (10-19, 2-16) at No. 10.

TOURNEY TIME
USC clinched the No. 3 seed into this year's Pac-10 Tournament with a 12-6 finish in conference play. A five-game win streak has improved the Trojans' overall record entering the conference tourney to 18-11. USC also holds an RPI of 32 thanks to a powerful strength of schedule to go along with its 18-win mark to date. With that record, the Women of Troy have broken through the 17-win barrier for the first time since 2005-06. And their 12-6 Pac-10 regular-season record is the best mark since 2004-05.

THIS TIME LAST YEAR
Entering the 2009 Pac-10 Tournament last season at the Galen Center, USC was 15-14 overall and got the No. 6 seed out of a three-way tie at 9-9 in the Pac-10 standings. The Trojans went on to become the lowest-seeded team ever to make it to the conference final, as USC upset No. 16 Arizona State 70-65 in the quarterfinals to snap a seven-game losing streak to the Sun Devils and then took down No. 12 Cal 69-67 in the semifinals -- snapping a streak of eight straight losses to the Bears -- to make USC's first-ever trip to the Pac-10 title match. There, the Trojans faced top-seeded and No. 2-ranked Stanford, falling 89-64 to the Cardinal to finish USC's season with a 17-15 overall record.

USC VS. OREGON
USC is 36-17 all-time against Oregon with a split this season. The Ducks beat USC 85-77 at the Galen Center earlier this season, and the Trojans claimed an 87-84 win over Oregon in late February. This will be the first time that USC and Oregon have faced at the Pac-10 Tournament.

LAST WEEK
USC closed out the Pac-10 regular season with a sweep at home, getting a 55-53 win over Arizona and a 62-52 victory over Arizona State at the Galen Center last week. In USC's fourth straight win by five points or fewer, the Trojans never trailed against the Wildcats but did have to ward off a comeback run by Arizona to hold onto the win. USC again held a 12-point advantage at the half, up 32-20 on the Wildcats thanks to 12 USC points off Arizona turnovers. Once again, the Wildcats made things interesting, closing to within one in the final minute. Offensively, the Trojans were shooting at a 39-percent clip at halftime, ahead of Arizona's 32 percent. Arizona upped its shooting in the second half to 41 percent while USC dropped to 33 percent, as the teams wrapped up in stride at 36.5 percent each from the floor. Arizona won the battle of the boards 38-31, but USC was ahead in assists 18-5 and in steals 11-6 down the stretch. Wildcat Ify Ibekwe led all scorers with 18 points, and Kari LaPlante led the Trojans with 13 despite early foul trouble. Briana Gilbreath served up a career-high eight assists while joining LaPlante in double digits with 10 points. Ashley Corral hit two 3-pointers for USC in the 55-53 win, taking over as USC's leader in single-season 3-pointers made. On Saturday afternoon, USC won its fifth straight game with a 62-52 comeback win over Arizona State. The Trojans trailed the Sun Devils by seven at halftime, but fought back and held ASU to just 19 second-half points. Meanwhile, USC poured in 36 points in the second half to pass up the Sun Devils and pocket the win in the Pac-10 regular-season closer. ASU's focus on high-percentage shots in the first half had the Sun Devils shooting at a 48-percent clip to lead USC's 30-percent effort by halftime, as the Trojans trailed 33-26. ASU had tallied 24 points in the paint, although USC had hit four 3-pointers by halftime. What hurt USC in the first half was a run of penetration points by the Sun Devils late in the half, erasing a slim USC lead to leave the Trojans in a seven-point hole at the halftime buzzer. USC improved on its shooting in the second half and clamped down on defense, forcing a total of 23 turnovers by the Sun Devils in the game. After closing in, USC trailed by one with 5 minutes to go, then went on a 7-0 run to take the lead and stay out of reach of ASU down the stretch. The Trojans finished out the game shooting 34.6 percent while ASU shot 39.6. The teams were locked up 34-34 on the boards. Ashley Corral's game-high 20 points led all scorers, with ASU's Danielle Orsillo and Kimberly Brandon getting to doubles figures with 13 and 11 points, respectively.

SENIOR STRENGTH
This week marks the final home games for USC's four seniors. All four were recognized on Saturday (March 6) in a pregame ceremony that honored seniors Hailey Dunham, Aarika Hughes, Heather Oliver and Daniela Roark for their successful careers as Women of Troy. For Dunham and Hughes, this marks the pair's fourth straight season together. Oliver joined the group in 2007 as a transfer and has made her mark in the 3-point record books. Roark also came to USC as a transfer, seeing her first action last season. The group was a part of history last season when the Trojans reached their first-ever Pac-10 Tournament championship game. Together this season, the group has accounted for a third of USC's scoring, and all four have appeared in every game for the Trojans to date.

INJURY REPORT
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. McDonald's All-American Jacki Gemelos returned to game competition for the first time in her USC career on Feb. 4 after the 2006 top recruit had been sidelined for the past three complete seasons with knee injuries.

JACKI'S BACK
After almost four years on the sidelines with knee injuries, Jacki Gemelos -- a high school All-American and the nation's top recruit as a freshman in 2006 -- took to the court for the first game action of her Trojan career on Feb. 4 at Cal. She got in the game in the first minute of play and played 28 minutes, finishing with eight points, five assists and five rebounds. Now with nine games under her belt, Gemelos is averaging 8.4 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game for the Trojans. Beyond the arc, she's shooting 38.1 percent (8-of-21). Gemelos is academically a senior with plans to start up graduate study next semester.

PADDING THE RESUME
In building up to a current RPI of 32 (as of March 6 games) and an 18-11 record entering the Pac-10 Tournament, USC has faced some tough competition. With competitive games in the early goings, USC has wound down the regular season with 10 games against teams ranked or receiving votes in the latest national polls. Of those games, the Trojans beat Fresno State (RV) and No. 20/18 Texas, split games with No. 23/RV UCLA and fell to No. 5 Xavier, No. 13/17 Gonzaga, No. 6/9 Duke and twice to No. 2 Stanford. USC's loss to Xavier was in overtime, and the Duke loss was a six-point game on the road. USC has posted two five-game winning streaks during the year, having most recently answered a five-game slump -- in which three losses were on the road vs. three of the Pac-10's top-four teams -- with five straight Pac-10 wins to gain some momentum entering this week's tournament.

NO BACKING DOWN
USC's opening run at the 2009-10 season was an impressively competitive stretch. The Trojans played six straight games on the road and faced four different ranked teams during USC's first eight games of the year. USC served up upset wins over ranked Texas, Mississippi State and Arizona State, while falling to ranked Xavier in overtime, ranked Duke after leading for most of the game in Durham and falling twice to No. 2 Stanford. In total, eight of USC's first nine opponents played in last year's NCAA Tournament, and the Trojans have posted three wins over ranked teams to date -- all on the road. Thanks to an early five-game win streak during Pac-10 play, USC matched its best Pac-10 start since the 2004-05 season with a 7-2 run through the first half of conference action.

CORRAL'S BREAKTHROUGH
Sophomore point guard Ashley Corral has been busy this season. She averages a conference-high 36.4 minutes per game, and has been using that time to the max. Early this year, Corral broke the USC all-time record of single-game 3-pointers by nailing seven on the road vs. Duke, while also setting new career highs for herself with 27 points (at Arizona), 11 rebounds (at Long Beach State), 9 assists (at Duke), 5 steals (at Gonzaga) while going a perfect 8-8 from the free-throw line (at Gonzaga), and shooting 60 percent (9-of-15) vs. Xavier. Recently, Corral set a new best with 12 assists at Oregon, notching the fourth-most single-game assists mark by a Trojan and becoming one of only five USC players to have served up 12 or more assists in a game. And last weekend, Corral took over another top mark by dumping in a single-season record 3-pointers, as she passed the old mark of 72 held by Brynn Cameron with a flurry of threes to currently hold 77 this season. Entering this week, she leads the Pac-10 with 5.0 assists per game [No. 41 in the nation], is second in the conference with 2.7 threes per game [No. 30 in the nation], is No. 6 in free throws with an .832 average (89-of-107) [No. 49 in the nation], and is eighth in the Pac-10 in scoring with 15.1 points per game. She's also made a home in the USC all-time top-10 for career 3-pointers, ranking No. 5 all-time with 130 career threes to date -- two away from the No. 4 spot.

BRI'S TOP BLOCKS
Briana Gilbreath served up a career-high six blocks in USC's win over Long Beach State and has continued to deliver stuffs on defense. She had nine blocks in two games against OSU and Oregon in January, helping to push the sophomore to the No. 3 slot on the Pac-10 charts on the year entering the week with 44 blocks and an average of 1.5 blocks per game. That's also good enough to rank Gilbreath 84th in the nation in blocks.

SUPER SOPHS
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 new 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 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. The pair is still dominating the top of the Trojan stats ladders as USC's two top scorers. Corral is averaging 15.1 points per game, and Gilbreath is next with 12.8. Gilbreath has hit double-digit scoring in 20 games, and Corral has done so in 19.

MAKING HER MARK
USC true freshman Christina Marinacci has come up strong for the Trojans in her first season at Troy. She earned her first nod as a starter on Feb. 18 against WSU and has stayed a regular in the starting lineup since. In the five games she's started, Marinacci has averaged 9.0 points and 5.8 rebounds in 23.6 minutes per game to up her overall season averages to 6.0 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in an average of 17.8 minutes per game. Most notably, Marinacci has been a key force on the offensive boards for the Trojans, leading the team with 2.3 offensive rebounds per game. A McDonald's All-American, Marinacci is one of two incoming freshmen to the Trojan roster this season, but is the only freshman on the court this year following a season-ending knee injury suffered by fellow freshman Vicky Tagalicod in late October.

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. She set a new career high this season with 18 points and 15 rebounds against Oregon, and is currently averaging 6.6 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.

OLLIE GRINDS OUT BIG SHOTS
Senior guard Heather Oliver has proven a comeback kid for the Trojans, nailing clutch 3-pointers to key Pac-10 road wins at No. 17 Arizona State and at Arizona. In the Jan. 1 upset of ASU, Oliver nailed 4 threes in under 7 minutes to get USC ahead after trailing by nine with 5 minutes left and on to a 60-56 upset win over the Sun Devils -- USC's first win in Tempe since the 2001-02 season. Oliver finished second on the team in scoring with 14 points in that one, and was second again two days later with 19 points in an overtime win at Arizona. Oliver again knocked down huge 3-pointers for USC as the Trojans came back from a 13-point deficit to bring up an overtime push. Oliver's 19 points all came in the second half and overtime. She hit her four 3-pointers in a span of eight minutes -- the first coming with 7:05 to go in regulation, and the fourth drained in overtime. Oliver had seven points in OT to help USC to an 81-78 road win over the Wildcats, and most recently she was 4-of-5 from 3-point land with 18 points to lead USC in a road win at Oregon State. She's fifth on the team in scoring with 6.9 ppg, and ranks No. 6 all-time at USC in career threes with 116 to date. Oliver also stands out as USC's No. 2 all-time shooter from beyond the arc, holding a 37.9% mark from 3-point land so far in her USC career. Her current season mark of .376 is the fifth best in the conference to date, and she averages 1.4 threes per game.

COMEBACK KIDS
USC's first five-game win streak was pieced together primarily through come-from-behind victories. The Trojans trailed at halftime in five straight Pac-10 games, but only No. 2 Stanford was able to sidestep a victorious second-half comeback effort by the Women of Troy. In four straight comeback wins, USC outscored opponents Cal, UCLA, Washington and Washington State 152-109 in the second half, thanks to a combined 47 percent second-half shooting effort. During the second half, USC trailed by as much as 10 to Cal, 7 to UCLA, 9 at Washington and 6 at Washington State before rallying back to wins down the stretch. USC's win over Oregon State made it five straight wins for the Trojans, but marked the first time in six games that USC was in the lead through the entire game.

WINS AND SEA
USC had a largely successful run at the competitive Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands over Thanksgiving, as the Trojans took second place in the Reef Division with a 2-1 record after upending two ranked opponents. 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.

OPENING WEEKEND
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. 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.

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