USC Women Close Regular Season With Arizona, ASU
March 2, 2010
USC wraps up the regular season at home this week, hosting the Arizona schools in the final push for strong seedings in the coming Pac-10 Tournament. USC's Galen Center will be home to Pac-10 hoops for the next two weeks, as the host site for the Pac-10 Tournament running March 11-14. But first, the Women of Troy (16-11, 10-6 Pac-10) take aim at Arizona (13-14, 6-10) in a 7 p.m. game on Thursday (March 4) before clashing with Arizona State (17-10, 9-7) at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday (March 6) in the Pac-10 regular-season finale. The Trojans can move up to earn a third-place finish in the conference if they are able to sweep through this week's games. Also of note, sophomore Ashley Corral enters the week just one 3-pointer away from tying USC's top mark for single-season 3-pointers made. Brynn Cameron holds the record with 72, with Corral currently holding 71 so far this season.
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 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 usctrojans.com.
IN THE NATION
USC is unranked in this week's national polls. Arizona and Arizona State also are not ranked.
USC got through its final Pac-10 road trip with a sweep of the Oregon schools last week, as the Women of Troy earned two tight wins. The Trojans topped host Oregon in a high-powered game that saw USC come through with an 87-84 win behind 23 points and 12 assists from Ashley Corral. Two days later, it was Heather Oliver who led USC in scoring with 18 crucial points in a 53-50 win at Oregon State. Corral dumped in key free throws in the final seconds in both games to help get the Trojans their there-point cushions. Her 12 assists at Oregon marked the fourth most single-game assists ever recorded by a Trojan, and made her one of just five Women of Troy to serve up at least 12 assists in a game.
This weekend marks the final regular-season home games for USC's four seniors. All four will be recognized on Saturday (March 6) in a pregame ceremony that will honor seniors Hailey Dunham, Aarika Hughes, Heather Oliver and Daniela Roark for their successful careers as Women of Troy. For Dunham and Hughes, this marks the pair's fourth straight season together. Oliver joined the group in 2007 as a transfer and has made her mark in the 3-point record books. Roark also came to USC as a transfer, seeing her first action last season. The group was a part of history last season when the Trojans reached their first-ever Pac-10 Tournament championship game. Together this season, the group has accounted for a third of USC's scoring, and all four have appeared in every game for the Trojans to date.
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. McDonald's All-American Jacki Gemelos returned to game competition for the first time in her USC career on Feb. 4 after the 2006 top recruit had been sidelined for the past three complete seasons with knee injuries.
The Wildcats are 13-14 overall and 6-10 in Pac-10 play entering the week after falling to Cal 58-52 and to Stanford 75-48 last week. Davelynne Whyte leads Arizona in scoring with 16.1 points per game, and Ify Ibekwe averages a double-double with 14.0 ppg and 11.6 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 46-18 all-time against Arizona after the Trojans' 81-78 overtime win in Tucson earlier this season. Arizona has beaten USC at the Galen Center in the past two seasons, however.
The Sun Devils are 17-10 overall and 9-7 in Pac-10 play entering the week after falling 62-43 to Stanford and beating Cal 57-50 last week. Danielle Orsillo leads ASU in scoring with 14.0 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 49-16 all-time against ASU after beating the Sun Devils in Tempe for the first time since Jan. 17, 2003, in a 60-56 comeback win by the Trojans earlier this season.
After almost four years on the sidelines with knee injuries, Jacki Gemelos -- a high school All-American and the nation's top recruit as a freshman in 2006 -- took to the court for the first game action of her Trojan career on Feb. 4 at Cal. She got in the game in the first minute of play and played 28 minutes, finishing with eight points, five assists and five rebounds. Now with seven games under her belt, Gemelos is averaging 9.4 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game for the Trojans. Beyond the arc, she's shooting 40 percent (8-of-20). Gemelos is academically a senior with plans to start up graduate study next semester.
NO BACKING DOWN
USC's opening run at the 2009-10 season was 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. 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 falling twice to No. 2 Stanford. 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. Thanks to a five-game win streak during Pac-10 play, USC matched its best Pac-10 start since the 2004-05 season with a 7-2 run through the first half of conference action.
USC's five-game win streak was pieced together primarily through come-from-behind victories. The Trojans trailed at halftime in five straight Pac-10 games, but only No. 2 Stanford was able to sidestep a victorious second-half comeback effort by the Women of Troy. In four straight comeback wins, USC outscored 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's win over Oregon State made it five straight wins for the Trojans, but marked the first time in six games that USC was in the lead through the entire game.
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. 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 conference-high 36.5 minutes per game, and has been using that time to the max. Early this year, Corral broke the USC all-time record of single-game 3-pointers by nailing seven on the road vs. Duke, while also 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. Most recently, Corral set a new best with 12 assists at Oregon, notching the fourth-most single-game assists mark by a Trojan and becoming one of only five USC players to have served up 12 or more assists in a game. Entering this week, she leads the Pac-10 with 5.0 assists per game [No. 40 in the nation], is second in the conference with 2.6 threes per game [No. 34 in the nation], is No. 7 in free throws with an .828 average (82-of-99) [No. 57 in the nation], and is eighth in the Pac-10 in scoring with 15.1 points per game. She's also made a home in the USC all-time top-10 for career 3-pointers, ranking No. 5 all-time with 124 career threes to date. She also holds the second-best single-season 3-point tally at USC with 71 this season so far -- just one away from tying for the lead and two from taking over the top.
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. She had nine blocks in two games against OSU and Oregon in January, helping to push the sophomore to the No. 3 slot on the Pac-10 charts on the year entering the week with 44 blocks and an average of 1.6 blocks per game. That's also good enough to rank Gilbreath 71st 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 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 15.1 points per game, and Gilbreath is next with 13.1. Gilbreath has hit double-digit scoring in 19 games, and Corral has done so in 18.
OLLIE GRINDS OUT BIG SHOTS
Senior guard Heather Oliver has proven a comeback kid for the Trojans, 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, and most recently she was 4-of-5 from 3-point land with 18 points to lead USC in a road win at Oregon State. She's fourth on the team in scoring with 7.3 ppg, and ranks No. 6 all-time at USC in career threes with 116 to date. Oliver also stands out as USC's all-time sharpest shooter from beyond the arc, holding a 38.4% mark from 3-point land so far in her USC career. Her current season mark of .390 is the fifth best in the conference to date, and she averages 1.5 threes per game.
MAKING HER MARK
USC true freshman Christina Marinacci has come up strong for the Trojans in her first season at Troy. She earned her first nod as a starter on Feb. 18 against WSU and has stayed in the starting lineup ever since. In the four games she's started, Marinacci has averaged 9.0 points and 5.8 rebounds in 22.8 minutes per game to up her overall season averages to 5.8 points and 3.6 rebounds per game in an average of 17.8 minutes per game. 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.
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. She set a new career high this season with 18 points and 15 rebounds against Oregon, and is currently averaging 6.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.
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. 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. Visit www.pac-10.org for more information and for tickets.