USC Women Return to Galen After a Month on the Road

Dec. 15, 2009

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The USC women have been playing games on the road for a month now, but the Women of Troy have their homecoming set for this weekend at the Galen Center. USC hosts the fourth installment of the annual Women of Troy Basketball Classic on Dec. 19 and 20, with three teams coming to Troy for competition. Joining the Women of Troy for pre-holiday action are Dartmouth, Cal State Bakersfield and Delaware State -- all first-timers to the Galen Center and to the USC schedule. USC (4-4) opens up with a 4:30 p.m. clash against Dartmouth (2-5) on Saturday (Dec. 19), with Cal State Bakersfield (4-5) and Delaware State (1-6) facing off at 7 p.m. that evening. On Sunday (Dec. 20) the losing teams will play at 3 p.m., and the winners go at it at 5:30 p.m. at the Galen Center.

This weekend's USC games will be broadcast live through Trojans All-Access at with live video along with audio provided by Chris Fisher and Brynn Cameron. Live stats through GameTracker also will be available online through the women's basketball page at

USC is unranked in the national polls this week. Cal State Bakersfield, Dartmouth and Delaware State also are unranked.

This year marks the fourth edition of USC's December tournament, the Women of Troy Basketball Classic. With Cal State Bakersfield, Delaware State and Dartmouth's visit to this year's tourney, USC will have hosted 11 different teams in the Trojans' annual action at Galen. USC has posted a 5-1 record in the past three Women of Troy tournaments, taking an overtime loss to No. 8 Duke last year for the Trojans' only blemish while hosting December tournament play.

The Big Green enter the week at 2-5 overall after beating Stony Brook 77-72 and falling to Syracuse 56-42 last week. Brittney Smith leads Dartmouth with 11.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. Head coach Chris Wielgus is in her 25th season with the Big Green, who went 18-11 overall last season and finished first in the Ivy League on the way to an appearance in the NCAA First Round. Dartmouth returns nine letterwinners from that team, including three starters. This will be the first-ever meeting between USC and Dartmouth.

The Roadrunners enter the week at 4-5 overall after beating Santa Clara 78-76 and falling to UC Santa Barbara 79-51 last week. Katie Williams leads CSUB with 20.4 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Head coach Tim La Kose is in his ninth season with the Roadrunners, who went 19-10 overall last season in the university's third year of the transition to full Division I status. CSUB returns seven letterwinners from that team, including two starters. This will be the first-ever meeting between USC and Cal State Bakersfield.

The Lady Hornets enter the week at 1-6 overall after falling to Seton Hall 74-50 last week in Delaware State's sixth straight loss. Alexis Abraham leads Delaware State in scoring with 9.3 points per game. Head coach Ed Davis is in his 10th season with the Lady Hornets, who went 15-15 overall last season and finished third in the MEAC. Delaware State returns five letterwinners from that team, including one starter. This will be the first-ever meeting between USC and Delaware State.

USC anticipates the return of McDonald's All-American Jacki Gemelos to game competition in February 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's opening run at the 2009-10 season has been 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. En route to a current 4-4 overall mark, USC has served up upset wins over ranked Texas and Mississippi State, while falling to ranked Xavier in overtime and ranked Duke after leading for most of the game in Durham. USC's other two losses on the year have come in road games vs. Gonzaga and Rutgers. In total, eight of USC's first nine opponents played in last year's NCAA Tournament.

USC came up with a split as the Trojans wrapped up a month-long stretch of road games last week. USC first paid a visit to Long Beach State for a California clash against former USC player and assistant coach Jody Wynn's 49ers. It was a high-scoring affair on both ends, but USC won out with three players nailing double-doubles as the Women of Troy picked up their third straight win with an 83-77 victory. The Trojans outpaced their hosts with a season-high rebounding effort and five players in double-figure scoring to close out a game that tightened up significantly down the stretch. Ashley Corral secured the first double-double for any Trojan this season at the 13:05 mark of the second half, but by game's end there were two more Women of Troy with double-doubles as well. Briana Gilbreath led USC in scoring with 21 points and 10 rebounds while also pounding out a career-high six blocks. Corral had 10 points and a career-high 11 rebounds, and Hailey Dunham matched her career bests with 13 points and 10 rebounds. The next day, USC was back at the airport for a trip to face No. 11 Duke, the Trojans' fourth ranked opponent of the season. USC led for over 28 minutes in the game until the Blue Devils got some calls and some big shots to fall to take the lead in the second half and hold on for a 78-72 win over the Women of Troy. Corral had a career-high 26 points, including a school-record seven 3-pointers to lead USC's offense. Four Trojans finished in double figures as well, with Gilbreath scoring 14, Heather Oliver hitting 12 with four 3-pointers, and Aarika Hughes had 10 points.

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.

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.

Sophomore point guard Ashley Corral has been busy this season. She averages 38.4 minutes per game, and has been using that time to the max. Already this year, Corral has broken the USC all-time record of single-game 3-pointers by nailing seven on the road vs. Duke, while setting new career highs for herself with 26 points (at Duke), 11 rebounds (at Long Beach State), nine assists (at Duke), 5 steals, going a perfect 8-8 from the free-throw line (at Gonzaga), and shooting 60 percent (9-of-15) vs. Xavier. She leads the Pac-10 with 5.4 assists per game [No. 37 in the nation], is second in free throws with a .906 average (29-of-32) [No. 18 in the nation] and is third in the conference with 2.8 threes per game.

Briana Gilbreath served up a career-high six blocks in USC's win over Long Beach State, pushing the sophomore to the top of the Pac-10 charts on the year with her current average of 2.3 blocks per game. That's also good enough to rank Gilbreath 25th in the nation in blocks.

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.

USC true freshman Christina Marinacci has come up consistent and strong for the Trojans in her first season at Troy. She's averaging 6.8 points per game to go along with 4.1 rebounds in her 17.0 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.

Senior guard/forward Aarika Hughes has more than doubled her offensive output from last year, providing 10.3 points per game through these first eight games of her senior season. She's also upped her efforts on the boards, hauling in 5.5 rebounds per game down the stretch to stand third on the team in scoring and rebounding to date.

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.

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.

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 of action 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.

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