USC Women Play Home and Away, Open Pac-10 In Arizona

Dec. 28, 2009

The USC women close out nonconference play for the year with a Wednesday home game against North Carolina State before shoving off to Arizona to ring in the new year with Pac-10 play. The Women of Troy (6-4) will play host to NC State (7-4) at 6 p.m. on Wednesday (Dec. 30) at the Galen Center. From there, the Trojans will transition into their first Pac-10 competition of the season. USC will take on No. 17 Arizona State (7-3) at 2 p.m. MT on Friday (Jan. 1) in Tempe, Ariz., before heading over to Tucson to face Arizona (5-4) at 2 p.m. MT on Sunday (Jan. 3).

Wednesday's home game will be broadcast live through Trojans All-Access at with live video along with audio provided by Chris Fisher and Brynn Cameron. Chris Fisher will also provide live audio for the ASU and Arizona games. Live stats through GameTracker for all games also will be available online through the women's basketball page at

USC is unranked in the national polls this week. Arizona State ranks No. 17 in the ESPN/USA Today poll and No. 18 in the latest AP poll. North Carolina State and Arizona both are unranked.

The Wolfpack enter the week at 7-4 overall after beating Winthrop 66-53 and falling to Georgetown 67-66 before the holiday. Marissa Kastenek and Bonae Holston lead NC State in scoring with 11.2 and 10.8 points per game, respectively. Kellie Harper is in her first season as head coach of the Wolfpack, which went 13-17 overall last year and was 5-9 in the ACC. NC State returns 10 letterwinners from that team, including four starters. This will be the first-ever meeting between USC and NC State.

The No. 17 Sun Devils enter the week at 7-3 overall after taking a 70-66 loss to Boston University and a 72-62 loss to Texas A&M before the holiday. Danielle Orsillo leads ASU in scoring with 13.3 points per game. Head coach Charli Turner Thorne is in her 13th season with the Sun Devils, who went 26-9 overall and finished 15-3 in the Pac-10 before reaching the NCAA Elite Eight. ASU returns seven letterwinners from that team, including two starters. USC is 48-16 all-time against ASU, with the Trojans snapping a seven-game losing streak to the Sun Devils with last season's Pac-10 Tournament 70-65 upset win of the No. 16 ASU in the quarterfinals.

The Wildcats are 5-4 overall entering the week after falling to Georgia Tech 70-48 and to UC Riverside 65-53 before the holiday. Davelynne Whyte leads Arizona in scoring with 13.9 points per game, and Ify Ibekwe averages a double-double with 11.3 ppg and 12.1 rpg. Head coach Niya Butts is in her second season with the Wildcats, who went 12-19 overall and finished 4-14 in the Pac-10 last year. Arizona returns four letterwinners from that team, including two starters. USC is 45-18 all-time against Arizona, with the teams splitting in conference play last season as the Wildcats beat USC 74-61 in their last meeting.

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 6-4 overall mark after winning the Women of Troy Basketball Classic title, USC 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 dominated all comers in the fourth edition of the Women of Troy Basketball Classic at the Galen Center. The Trojans first put together their toughest defensive performance of the year in a 78-46 win over Dartmouth before winning the tournament title in USC's most powerful rebounding and offensive effort in a 93-56 win over Cal State Bakersfield. Led by 18-point outings from Heather Oliver and Ashley Corral, the Trojan offense charged ahead of Dartmouth while the defense clamped down and allowed a season-low 17 field goals and a new low of 27.9 percent shooting from the Big Green. USC finished out the game shooting 48 percent from the field and got double-digit scoring from Corral and Oliver's 18 points along with 10 points from Briana Gilbreath, while Aarika Hughes pulled down 10 rebounds for the Trojans. Dartmouth finished ahead of USC on the boards overall, 40-37, but it was the Trojans' hot hands from the floor and defensive prowess that proved the advantage for USC. USC forced 20 Dartmouth turnovers and racked up 19 assists in the game to match a season-high, led by five assists from Corral and Hailey Dunham. The next day, the Trojans peeled out ahead of Cal State Bakersfield in the title match for USC's highest scoring effort of the year to go along with a season-high 58 rebounds and 25 assists. All eight active Women of Troy scored in the game, with Dunham and Kari LaPlante notching double-doubles in the win. Corral - who had 15 points and seven rebounds in today's game - was named the Tournament MVP, and Oliver - with 14 points vs CSUB - was named to the All-Tournament Team. Corral and Oliver matched each other with 18 points each in USC's opening win over Dartmouth. Joining Corral and Oliver in double figures against the Roadrunners were four other Women of Troy. Hughes hit a career-high 15 points, Gilbreath had 13, LaPlante had 12 to go with 10 rebounds for the first double-double of her career, and Dunham had 10 points and a career-high 13 rebounds.

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 36.1 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 5.5 assists per game [No. 27 in the nation], is second in free throws with a .912 average (31-of-34) [No. 14 in the nation], is second in the conference with 2.9 threes per game [No. 27 in the nation], and is third in teh Pac-10 in scoring with 16.2 points 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 2.0 blocks per game. That's also good enough to rank Gilbreath 34th 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 6.9 points per game to go along with 4.0 rebounds in her 18.2 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 6.3 rebounds per game down the stretch to stand third on the team in scoring and No. 1 in 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.

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 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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