USC Women Tackle No. 2 Stanford and Cal at Galen
Jan. 5, 2010
The USC women dig in for their first Pac-10 home games of the year after a winning road sweep through Arizona last week. The Women of Troy (8-5, 2-0 Pac-10) will first face No. 2 Stanford (11-1, 1-0) in a 7 p.m. clash on Friday (Jan. 8) at the Galen Center. USC then turns to square off against California (6-6, 0-1) at 3 p.m. on Sunday (Jan. 10).
This week's games will be broadcast live through Trojans All-Access at usctrojans.com with live video along with audio provided by Chris Fisher and Brynn Cameron. Live stats through GameTracker for all games 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 AP poll this week. Stanford ranks No. 2 in both polls, and California is unranked.
The No. 2 Cardinal are 11-1 overall and 1-0 in Pac-10 play after beating Cal 79-58 last week. Nnemkadi Ogwumike and Kayle Pedersen lead Stanford in scoring with 18.8 and 18.0 points per game, respectively. Tara VanDerveer is in her 24th season as head coach of the Cardinal, who went 33-5 overall, winning the Pac-10 championship and reaching the NCAA Final Four. Thirteen letterwinners return from that team, including four starters. USC is 19-43 all-time against Stanford, having lost the past four meetings including three losses last season. The Cardinal beat the Trojans in last year's Pac-10 Tournament championship game, 89-64, at the Galen Center.
The Bears are 6-6 overall and 0-1 in Pac-10 play after falling 79-58 to Stanford last week. Alexis Gray-Lawson and DeNesha Stallworth lead Cal in scoring with 13.8 and 13.5 points per game, respectively. Joanne Boyle is in her fifth season as head coach of the Bears, who went 27-7 overall last season, finishing second in the Pac-10 and reaching the NCAA Third Round. Five letterwinners return from that team, including three starters. USC is 32-21 all-time against Cal after snapping an eight-game losing streak to the Bears with USC's 69-67 upset win over Cal in last year's Pac-10 Tournament semifinal game at the Galen Center.
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 8-5 overall mark, USC has served up upset wins over ranked Texas, Mississippi State and Arizona State, while falling to ranked Xavier in overtime and ranked Duke after leading for most of the game in Durham. USC's other losses on the year have come in road games vs. Gonzaga and Rutgers and a tough loss at home to NC State. 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.
USC registered a road sweep last week, opening Pac-10 play and 2010 with conference wins at Arizona State and Arizona. The Trojans had to come back to win in both games, staring at double-digit deficits against the Sun Devils and the Wildcats. In both games, it was the hot-handed Heather Oliver who helped dig USC out of trouble with four late 3-pointers in each winning comeback push. The Trojans fought back to upset No. 17 Arizona State on Friday to tally USC's first win in Tempe since the 2001-02 season, as Briana Gilbreath led USC with 16 points with Oliver delivering 14 and Hailey Dunham scoring 12 in a 60-56 USC victory over the Sun Devils. On Sunday, USC went from a powerful first half that saw the Trojans lead by as much as 20, to a terrible second half that gave way to a Arizona rally to put USC behind by as much as 13 with eight minutes left. USC fired off a run to get back into the game and eventually force overtime, in which the Trojans stayed ahead the whole way to snag an 81-78 victory over the host Wildcats. Ashley Corral led USC with a career-high 27 points in the game, with Oliver scoring 19, Dunham putting in another 12, and Gilbreath scoring 10.
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.
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 36.3 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 27 points (at Arizona), 11 rebounds (at Long Beach State), nine 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. Entering the week, she leads the Pac-10 with 5.8 assists per game [No. 24 in the nation], is No. 6 in free throws with a .842 average (48-of-57) [No. 61 in the nation], is third in the conference with 2.6 threes per game [No. 49 in the nation], and is sixth in the Pac-10 in scoring with 15.7 points per game.
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, pushing the sophomore to the No. 2 slot on the Pac-10 charts on the year entering the week with her current average of 1.8 blocks per game. That's also good enough to rank Gilbreath 55th 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 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 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.
OLLIE GRINDS OUT BIG SHOTS
Senior guard Heather Oliver has been the comeback kid for the Trojans in recent wins, nailing clutch 3-pointers to key Pac-10 road wins at No. 17 Arizona State and at Arizona. She ranks No. 1 in the Pac-10 with a .500 mark from behind the arc, and averages 1.9 threes per game entering the week. In the Jan. 1 upset of ASU, Oliver nailed four threes in under seven minutes to get USC ahead of ASU 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. She's third on the team in scoring with 9.2 ppg.
MAKING HER MARK
USC true freshman Christina Marinacci has come up consistent and strong for the Trojans in her first season at Troy. Entering the week, she's averaging 5.5 points per game to go along with 3.8 rebounds in her 17.3 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.
AARIKA ON THE RISE
Senior guard/forward Aarika Hughes has more than doubled her offensive output from last year, providing 8.9 points per game entering the week. She's also upped her efforts on the boards, hauling in 6.6 rebounds per game down the stretch to stand fourth on the team in scoring and No. 1 in rebounding to date.
Senior guard Hailey Dunham has stepped into her new role as a full-time starter for the Trojans and has been providing key outings in her final season at Troy. After averaging 4.5 points and 4.2 rebounds per game last season, Dunham hit her career high of 13 points against Long Beach State this season, has two double-doubles so far, and has punched in double digits in three of the past four games to enter the week averaging 6.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.
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.
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.
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 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 of action until February 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 suffered another knee injury during the offseason and is 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 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 freshman Christina Marinacci joins the USC roster as an All-American honoree for the 2009-10 campaign.
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.