USC Women Shove Offshore For Paradise Jam

Nov. 23, 2009

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The USC women will spend Thanksgiving on the road this year, substituting turkey dinner for a clash against Rutgers to open up competition at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Action in St. Thomas sets up the Women of Troy for three games in three days. USC (1-2) opens with a 7 p.m. ET game against Rutgers on Thursday (Nov. 26), and then moves on to face No. 13 Texas at 9:30 p.m. ET on Friday (Nov. 27) before closing down with a 7 p.m. ET game against No. 19 Mississippi State on Saturday (Nov. 28). This week's competition will round out a stretch of six straight games against 2009 NCAA Tournament teams to open USC's 2009-10 season.

Live stats through GameTracker also will be available online through the women's basketball page at, with live video streaming available through Fox College Sports - Broadband. You can also follow tournament play on twitter @paradisejam.

USC is unranked in the national AP poll. Rutgers is receiving votes; Texas is ranked No. 13 in this week's AP poll; and Mississippi State ranks No. 19.

The Scarlet Knights are 2-2 overall after beating Boston College 59-53 and falling to Georgia 49-48 last week. Brittany Ray and April Sykes lead Rutgers with 12.3 and 10.5 points per game, respectively. Head coach C. Vivian Stringer is in her 15th season with the Scarlet Knights, who went 21-13 overall last season, reaching the NCAA Regional semifinals. Rutgers returns seven letterwinners from that team, including two starters. USC is 2-4 all-time against Rutgers with the Scarlet Knights winning the last meeting 76-59 in New Brunswick, N.J. on Dec. 20, 1999.

The No. 13 Longhorns are 2-1 overall after falling 83-58 to UConn and beating North Texas 96-52 last week. Kathleen Nash and Brittainey Raven lead Texas with 16.0 and 13.0 point per game, respectively. Head coach Gail Goestenkors is in her third season with the Longhorns, who went 21-12 overall last season, reaching the NCAA First Round. Texas returns seven letterwinners from that team, including three starters. USC is 4-8 all-time against Texas with the Longhorns winning the last meeting 66-64 at the 2001 Paradise Jam on Nov. 25, 2001 in St. Thomas.

The No. 19 Bulldogs are 4-0 overall after beating Utah Valley 81-35 and Maryland 84-55 last week. Alexis Rack leads MSU with 22.3 points per game. Head coach Sharon Fanning-Otis is in her 15th season with the Bulldogs, who went 23-10 overall last season, reaching the NCAA Second Round. Mississippi State returns 11 letterwinners from that team, including four starters. This will be the first-ever meeting between USC and Mississippi State.

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 suffered a tough 70-58 road loss to Gonzaga last week in a game where the Trojans struggled to convert on offense, shooting just 29 percent for the game. Gonzaga's Vivian Frieson scored 22 points on 10-of-15 shooting for the Bulldogs. Ashley Corral led all scorers with 23 points, 14 of which came in the second half. In the first half, the Bulldogs nabbed 11 offensive rebounds in the first half to go up early. The Women of Troy were plagued by 11 turnovers in the half as they shot just 25 percent from the field to Gonzaga's 38 percent to trail 34-21 at half. USC closed the gap to within 11 just after the break, but that would be as close as the Women of Troy would come on a night in which little seemed to go right for the Trojans. Michelle Jenkins went down with a knee injury in the second half, and USC would trail by as much as 22 before closing the gap late in the game. USC closed the game on a 10-0 run on two steals from Corral, one from Heather Oliver and another by Christina Marinacci for easy baskets. Marinacci finished the game with 12 points and 6 rebounds, 5 of which came on the offensive end of the floor.

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.

USC true freshman Christina Marinacci has come up consistent and strong for the Trojans in her first season at Troy. She's averaging almost 10 points per game to go along with 5.3 rebounds in her 18 mintes 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 has 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.

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.

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 bulks up the tally of active McDonald's All-Americans on the USC roster. 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.

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.

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