Written by Dave Dulberg, USC blog contributor
Two months ago, if you had told USC junior forward Christina Marinacci that she'd be playing the best basketball of her Trojan career, the Santa Ana native likely wouldn't have believed you.
Following her impressive sophomore campaign (8.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game), Marinacci (pictured right by Daily Trojan) was dealt quite a blow before USC even took the court this season.
"I started out the season missing the first three weeks or so due to some sort of breathing problem," Marinacci said. "It was something along the lines of exercise-induced asthma, but there was no exact diagnosis. There were points where I started to get worried, thinking maybe this was worse than I thought it would be. No one knew anything for sure, and I wasn't told anything."
After three weeks of intensive medical tests, Marinacci was finally cleared to play, and she hasn't looked back since. While the Trojans trudged their way through a brutal non-conference schedule with a 5-5 record, the 6-foot-1 forward quickly asserted herself on the glass, leading the team on the boards in three of her first eight games.
"When the tests turned out fine, I got thrown back out there right away," said Marinacci. "It took me a few games to get in rhythm, but now my confidence level is back and my feel for the game is there. I am just out there playing free."
Although typically known as a dominant rebounder, after senior guard Jacki Gemelos suffered a season-ending knee injury against Texas A&M on Dec.18, Marinacci has picked up the slack at the offensive end for Michael Cooper's squad. In her last five games, the former McDonald's High School All-American has averaged 12.6 points, including a career-high 23 in a 74-54 win over Cal last month. During that five-game span, the Trojans are also 4-1.
"Playing so many top teams in the preseason, whether it be Texas A&M, Georgia or Notre Dame, really helped with my confidence," said Marinacci, who will be a major factor in the Women of Troy's crosstown rivalry battle in Westwood Saturday.. "Because, by the time Pac-12 play started, I realized that along with our early matchup with Stanford, we had already played some of the great teams across the country. I had seen it all and hung with some of the best players at our level."
While Marinacci's numbers won't jump off a stat sheet (7.9 points and 6.5 rebounds per game), the junior is more than content with her role on the team. It's a team she believes has the potential to do great things come March.
"I think we are going to be that team in the tournament that sneaks up on people when they least expect it," said Marinacci. "I think we definitely have the type of team that can make a deep run. And for me, I am just thrilled to be playing for this team. I may have had 23 points the other night, but I am not the go-to player. My job is getting those offensive rebounds and extra looks for Ashley [Corral] and Briana [Gilbreath], playing good defense and just shutting down their best post player. I am a big role player, and I love it."
Although it's safe to say Marinacci (pictured right by Rivals.com) is playing the finest basketball of her collegiate career, the junior says her early season health scare illustrated the importance of finding other outlets outside of basketball. While she still has more than a year remaining in cardinal and gold, Marinacci already has her sights set on the next chapter of her life.
"I would love to one day be a sideline reporter for ESPN," said Marinacci, who is majoring in communications. "I have worked with KXSC 1560-AM, USC's student-run radio station, both on the talk show side and covering the sidelines during Trojan football games. I've loved every minute of it and hope to do more on-camera work with ATVN this semester. I just can't wait for what my future has in store after my playing days are over."