USC Women Hit Pac-10 Halfway Mark At Home

Jan. 26, 2010

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The USC women can make this their best start to Pac-10 play in over a decade if the Women of Troy can pick up a sweep this week at Galen Center. Now 12-6 overall and a powerful 6-1 in Pac-10 play, the Trojans set up to host the Oregon schools to round out the first half of conference action. USC went 8-1 in the first half of Pac-10 competition in 1996-97, and went 7-2 in 2004-05. The first step in USC's pursuit of a second-place foothold in the current conference standings puts the Trojans up against Oregon State (9-8, 1-6 Pac-10) at 7 p.m. on Thursday (Jan. 28) at the Galen Center. USC will then host Oregon (12-7, 3-4) at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday (Jan. 30).

This week's games will be broadcast live through Trojans All-Access at with live video along with audio 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

USC is unranked in this week's national polls but is receiving votes in the AP poll. Oregon and Oregon State are both unranked.

The Beavers are 9-8 overall and 1-6 in Pac-10 play after losing 63-47 to Stanford and 79-75 in overtime to Cal last week. Talisa Rhea leads OSU in scoring with 17.8 points per game. LaVonda Wagner is in her fifth season as head coach of the Beavers, who went 20-12 overall last season, finishing 9-9 in the Pac-10 and reaching the WNIT Third Round. Seven letterwinners return from that team, including two starters. USC is 33-18 all-time against Oregon State after a split last season as USC got a 78-54 win in Los Angeles and OSU won 61-58 in Corvallis.

The Ducks are 12-7 overall and 3-4 in Pac-10 play after losing its past four games, including a 72-62 loss to Cal and a 100-80 loss to Stanford last week. Taylor Lilley leads Oregon in scoring with 16.3 points per game, respectively. Paul Westhead is in his first season as head coach of the Ducks, who went 9-21 overall and finished 5-13 in Pac-10 play last season. Nine letterwinners return from that team, including four starters. USC is 35-16 all-time against Oregon, having won the past four meetings with the Ducks. The Trojans won 66-56 in Los Angeles and 94-64 in Eugene last season.

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 12-6 overall mark, USC has 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 most recently to No. 2 Stanford. 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 is currently on a four-game win streak.

USC's current four-game win streak has been pieced together through come-from-behind victories. The Trojans have trailed at halftime in the past five Pac-10 games, but only No. 2 Stanford was able to sidestep a victorious second-half comeback effort by the Women of Troy. USC has outscored its past four 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 trailed at halftime in both road games at the Washington schools last week, but the Trojans powered back to win and bring home a road sweep and a four-game win streak. USC's first road rally took the Trojans to a 69-65 win over host Washington in Seattle. After a hot Husky first half, USC picked up the pace for the second thanks in part to 14 points in under five minutes by Ashley Corral. USC trailed by nine in the second half before making its move toward a key Pac-10 road victory. The hot-shooting Huskies had the Trojans down by 11 late in the first half before a late run by USC cut Washington's lead to three by halftime. The Huskies shot 47 percent in the half and was well ahead of USC on the boards 23-13 while the Trojans shot 39 percent in the half. Rebounding continued to be an issue for the Trojans, but they got warmer from the field in the second, going 54 percent in the half to round out the game ahead of Washington, 46 percent to 44 percent. After just three first-half points, Ashley Corral ripped ahead to lead USC with 22 points in the game. Three other Women of Troy hit double figures, with Briana Gilbreath and Kari LaPlante getting 13 each and Aarika Hughes had 10. Two days later in Pullman, USC held WSU to just 19 second-half points to overcome a five-point halftime deficit and continue the Trojans' impressive run through Pac-10 action with a 61-51 win. For the fifth straight game, USC trailed its opponent at halftime. The Cougars had mounted a first-half comeback to erase an eight-point Trojan lead and put USC behind 32-27 at the break. USC was shooting 29 percent in the first half, just behind WSU's 29.4 percent, but the Cougars nailed five 3-pointers in the first half and outrebounded USC 28-22 to hold the advantage at the break. In similar form to USC's comeback win at Washington, Corral got on the offensive late in the game to join Gilbreath's scoring efforts. Gilbreath was the only player in double figures at halftime, and finished out the game just a rebound shy of a double-double with a game-high 17 points and nine rebounds to go with Corral's 10 points - all of which came in the second half. Saturday's edition of the USC comeback saw the Trojans improve to 46-percent shooting in the half to finish out at 37.3 percent, while WSU slumped to 27 percent in the game. The Cougars still won out on the boards 46-40 in the game, but made just three field goals in the second half of play.

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 36.5 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), 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. Entering the week, she leads the Pac-10 with 5.2 assists per game [No. 36 in the nation], is second in the conference with 2.8 threes per game [No. 29 in the nation], is No. 7 in free throws with an .831 average (59-of-71) [No. 59 in the nation], and is seventh in the Pac-10 in scoring with 16.3 points per game [No. 94 in the nation]. She's also cracked the USC all-time top-10 for career 3-pointers, ranking No. 8 all-time with 103 career threes to date.

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. 3 slot on the Pac-10 charts on the year entering the week with her current average of 1.7 blocks per game. That's also good enough to rank Gilbreath 77th 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. The pair is still dominating the top of the Trojan stats ladders as USC's two top scorers. Corral is averaging 16.3 points per game, and Gilbreath is next with 13.7.

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.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. She's fourth on the team in scoring with 8.4 ppg, and ranks No. 7 all-time at USC in career threes with 104 to date. Oliver also stands out as USC's sharpest shooter from beyond the arc, holding a 39.1% mark from 3-point land so far in her USC career. Her current season mark of .420 is the second best in the conference to date, and she averages 1.6 threes per game.

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 5.4 points per game to go along with 3.3 rebounds in her 17.2 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 is 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 8.8 points per game entering the week. She's also upped her efforts on the boards, hauling in 6.2 rebounds per game down the stretch to stand third on the team in scoring and No. 1 in rebounding to date. She had a clutch performance for USC in its win over UCLA, nailing a pair of big threes in the second half and closing out the game with two late free throws to help clinch the win in a 12-point outing by the senior.

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. 12 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.

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 enters this week averaging 5.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.

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 recently tied her career high of 13 points in USC's win at WSU, and is averaging 6.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. 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.

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.

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.

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