Women's Basketball
    USC Women Carry Six-Game Win Streak Into Pac-12 Tournament

    USC focuses in stretching its win streak toward a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

    March 6, 2012

    USC WBB Pac-12 Tourn NotesGet Acrobat Reader

    Now holding their longest win streak of the season, the USC women set to open up the Pacific Life Pac-12 Basketball Tournament as the No. 3 seed, having earned a bye in the first round to face either No. 6 Oregon State or No. 11 Washington State in a 7:15 p.m. quarterfinal game on Thursday (March 8) at the Galen Center in Los Angeles. The Trojans enter the conference tourney with six straight wins and hold an 18-11 overall record as they seek to bulk up their record and land a place at the 2012 NCAA Tournament to make their first appearance in the tournament since 2006. A win on Thursday would put USC in the 2:30 p.m. semifinal game on Friday (March 9) at the Staples Center. The Pac-12 Championship game will be held at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday (March 10) at Staples Center.

    USC's quarterfinal game at the Pac-12 Tournament will be streamed live on the Pac-12's YouTube channel at YouTube.com/Pac12Conf. The semifinals and final will be televised live by FSN. Live audio and stats will be available on the women's basketball schedule page at usctrojans.com.

    USC opened the year with a spot in the national rankings for the first time since 2006, ranked at No. 23 in both the AP and USA Today/ESPN preseason polls. After the first week, USC moved up to No. 22 in the USA Today/ESPN poll and No. 23 in AP, but fell out of the rankings in week two. USC is currently receiving votes in this week's USA Today/ESPN poll.

    Conference champion Stanford (27-1, 18-0 Pac-12) is the top seed into the Pac-12 Tournament for the 12th straight season. California (22-8, 13-5) is the No. 2 seed ahead of third-seeded USC (18-11, 12-6), with Arizona State (19-10, 10-8) grabbing the other first-round bye with the No. 4 seed. Playing in the opening round for the right to face the top four seeds in Thursday's quarterfinals are No. 5 UCLA (14-15, 9-9), No. 6 Oregon State (18-11, 9-9), No. 7 Utah (15-14, 8-10), No. 8 Washington (16-12, 8-10), No. 9 Oregon (15-15, 7-11), No. 10 Colorado (17-12, 6-12), No. 11 Washington State (11-19, 5-13) and No. 12 Arizona (14-16, 3-15).

    Entering the 2011 Pac-10 Tournament last season in Los Angeles, USC was 18-11 overall again and sat as the No. 4 seed after a 10-8 conference finish. The Trojans opened up with a 78-66 win over Washington State in the first round, but fell in the quarterfinals with a 72-61 loss to Arizona. That ultimately left USC out of reach of a spot in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, but the Trojans would take a place in the WNIT and won five straight to reach the final.

    USC closed out the regular season with their sixth straight victory on a 65-54 win over Washington State to follow a gutsy 62-55 win at Washington two days prior. In the win over WSU, Ashley Corral scored 16 points in the second half to finish with a double-double in her home state, leading the Women of Troy with 25 points and 10 rebounds to wrap up a winning trip through Washington. Corral's double-double on the day went along with 18 points from Christina Marinacci for her third consecutive double-digit game, and Cassie Harberts added 11 to the Trojan cause as USC shot 35 percent from the floor in the win. Washington State went 34 percent, and had closed the gap to six points with 3:30 to go before USC settled in to win it down the stretch. The Trojans finished out ahead 43-42 on the boards, and caused 18 WSU turnovers while committing 14 of their own. The Cougars were led by 17 points from Brandi Thomas and 11 from Rosie Tarnowski. Two days earlier in Seattle, USC wrested away another key win on Thursday night in a 62-55 victory over host Washington. Both wins were crucial for the Trojans in this final weekend of regular-season action, and Christina Marinacci stepped up in this one for a double-double effort to lead USC. It was a wild finish with the Trojans finally stealing a slim lead with 1:24 to go before closing it out to claim their fifth straight victory and avenge an earlier loss to the Huskies. USC had to make a late surge to settle out a wild battle in the final stretch. The Trojans were cold in much of the second half as Washington climbed back into the lead. After shooting 39 percent in the first half, USC finished up at 32 percent from the floor, while Washington heated up from 36 percent to a final 43 percent effort, although USC commanded the boards 38-33. Marinacci was the driving force, finishing with 12 rebounds to go with her game-high 19 points. Briana Gilbreath was next with 15 points and six rebounds for USC. Washington got 18 points from Jazmine Davis and 11 from Regina Rogers on the night. Marinacci also snagged four steals - including a key late interception - as USC forced 19 turnovers from the Huskies while committing 11 of its own. Christina Marinacci's big weekend effort in Washington secured the junior as the only Trojan to be named Pac-12 Player of the Week with her selection on March 5.

    A road-tested USC roster is back for more this season. Last season, the Women of Troy played in 11 different states in amassing a program record of 18 road games. This year, USC opened the year with another busy travel schedule. The Women of Troy visited five different U.S. states during their nonconference stretch, which included face-offs against six NCAA tournament teams, including road tilts against 2011 NCAA finalist Notre Dame and champion Texas A&M. Four of USC's five nonconference losses came on the road against currently AP-ranked teams: No. 20 Nebraska, No. 21 Georgia, No. 3 Notre Dame and No. 22 Texas A&M. The only other nonconference road loss this year was at unranked Arkansas State in USC's first-ever trip to the state of Arkansas. USC is now 9-8 in road and neutral-site games to date.

    Although USC was one of three Pac-12 teams to enter conference play without a winning record, the Trojans boast the third toughest schedule in the conference and No. 11 toughest nationally (realtimerpi.com). Entering Pac-12 play, USC's strength of schedule was listed as No. 2 in the nation. USC has played seven games against top-25 teams to date (1-6 against), with 10 games against currently ranked or receiving votes in the national AP poll (4-6 against). USC's current NCAA RPI is 30 (as of March 5), putting the Trojans as the second-highest team from the Pac-12 behind Stanford.

    USC seniors Ashley Corral and Briana Gilbreath have both broken through 1,500-point barrier this season as they continue to trek up the ladders in USC's history books. On Feb. 23 vs. Arizona, both seniors moved up the charts in the same game, with Gilbreath passing Cynthia Cooper to take over No. 9 all-time in career scoring (now holds 1,591 career points) while Corral passed Shay Murphy to move to No. 11 all-time (now holds 1,537 points). Gilbreath moved up to No. 4 all-time in career blocks (currently holds 166) on Feb. 11 and recently passed Shay Murphy at No. 6 all-time in steals (currently holds 240). Gilbreath also took over Pam McGee's No. 6 spot on the career free-throws made list on Feb. 11 (currently holds 384), and on Dec. 31, she cracked the top-10 all-time in career rebounds, now ranked No. 8 with 803-after passing Shay Murphy on Jan. 19. Corral already is etched as USC's all-time 3-point leader (291) -- having padded her lead out past the century mark -- and has leapfrogged Cheryl Miller, Jamie Hagiya and Tammy Story this year to now stand at No. 4 in career assists (currently holds 463), with three to go for a No. 3 spot.

    USC won its first game in Berkeley since 2005 in possibly the most dramatic fashion imaginable. The score locked up 10 times in the game and traded hands 11 times. Two of those lead changes were with backs to the wall. After USC took its largest lead of the game with 2:30 to go in regulation, Cal did the unimaginable, with Layshia Clarendon landing a 3-pointer that beat the buzzer to steal a regulation win from the Trojans. In overtime, Cal scored the first seven points, putting USC in its deepest hole since late in the first half. Down 72-65 with 1:50 to go, USC buckled down. Freshman Ariya Crook was up to the task. She would score all 11 of USC's points in overtime, including the last six big points in the final minute. After cutting it to three with 50 ticks to go, USC saw Cal turn the ball over on a violation on the inbounds. Crook made the Bears pay dearly for the mistake, making it a one-point game with 40 second left. Clarendon was then whistled for an offensive foul on Cal's next trip down, giving USC the ball for a winning attack. Crook converted on a clutch layup with just five seconds left, and Cal would not find a heroic buzzer beater this time around. USC got a game-high 24 points from Briana Gilbreath to go with a career-high 21 points from Crook. Christina Marinacci was at the helm on the boards for USC, finishing with 13 on the night.

    USC has two players sidelined for the season to rehab from offseason surgeries. Freshman Deanna Calhoun (knee) will redshirt her first year at USC, and Kate Oliver (ankle) will sit out the season after transferring from Marist. Junior Christina Marinacci missed the first game of her USC career on Nov. 11 due to health reasons but returned to action at Nebraska on Nov. 18. Ariya Crook missed the Nov. 26 game vs. Gardner-Webb with an ankle injury. Redshirt freshman Thaddesia Southall sustained a tear to her ACL graft on Nov. 30 and will be out the rest of the season. Redshirt senior Jacki Gemelos suffered her fourth career ACL tear on Dec. 18 when she injured her left knee. Briana Gilbreath missed the first games of her career on Jan. 28 and 31 with a knee injury, but returned to play limited minutes on Feb. 2. Alexyz Vaioletama was sidelined by a shin injury for the Feb. 9 game at Stanford and Feb. 11 game at Cal but returned on Feb. 19.

    USC's newcomers all marked up the stat sheet in their Trojan debuts in the season opener on Nov. 11. Freshman Alexyz Vaioletama got the start at forward and finished up with seven points, eight rebounds and five assists in her first action. Freshman Ariya Crook came off the bench to provide two points and an assist along with two steals; and redshirt freshman Thaddesia Southall nabbed a rebound and an assist to go along with two blocks for the post in her first minutes as a Trojan. Her first career points came with a free throw at Georgia on Nov. 20, and she became the first of the newcomers to hit double figures with 12 vs. Gardner-Webb on Nov. 26. Crook would notch her first double-digit day with 10 vs. UTSA on Nov. 30. Vaioletama hit double digits for the first time with 12 points at Texas A&M on Dec. 18, and most recently replicated that count with 12 vs. Oregon on Jan. 19. Crook picked up her first career start on Jan. 28 at Utah and hit double figures for the second time this season with a career-high 17 points. She provided the heroics in USC's Feb. 11 overtime win at Cal, setting a new career best with 21 points.

    Compared to the 14 years of combined time at USC among guards Ashley Corral, Jacki Gemelos, Briana Gilbreath and Stefanie Gilbreath, returning starters Cassie Harberts and Christina Marinacci are relative newbies. That is, until one takes a look at the minutes they've logged during their time as Trojans. Junior forward Marinacci played in every game in her first two seasons at Troy, and was fifth on the team in scoring last year with 8.2 points to go along with the second-best mark of 6.8 rebounds per game. Sophomore forward Harberts was the only Trojan to start every single game last season, and was one of four Trojans averaging in double digits last year with her 10.2 points per game that she paired with 6.2 rebounds per game. She secured a spot on the Pac-10 All-Freshman Team and was on the Pac-10 All-Tournament Team after posting a 30-point game during the tourney. This season, Harberts is averaging a team-high 12.1 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. Marinacci missed the first game of her career in USC's 2011-12 season opener, but has returned to provide 8.8 points and a team-high 7.4 rebounds per game to date after grabbing her fifth career double-double (19 pts, 12 rebs) at Washington on March 1. Most importantly, Marinacci has stepped up big after the loss of Jacki Gemelos to injury, as the junior is providing 10.6 ppg and a team-high 8.2 rpg during Pac-12 play.

    The USC roster is loaded up with eight All-American honorees. Five returning players were McDonald's All-Americans on their way into Troy: Ashley Corral, Jacki Gemelos, Briana Gilbreath, Stefanie Gilbreath and Christina Marinacci. Also holding high school All-American accolades is WBCA honoree Cassie Harberts. That core of six returners have two new McDonald's All-Americans in freshmen Ariya Crook and Alexyz Vaioletama.

    On Dec. 18 in College Station, Texas, USC gave the defending NCAA champion Texas A&M all they could handle, leading by as much as 10 against the Aggies before a late push and a clutch 3-pointer from Sydney Carter netted a 71-70 comeback win for Texas A&M to preserve a now-47-game nonconference home win streak for the Aggies. USC trailed by two when Jacki Gemelos went down with a knee injury with 3:39 to go in the first half. The Trojans wiped away tears of fear and sorrow for what looked to be Gemelos' fourth ACL injury of her career and took the floor after a "For Jacki" cheer. USC would then mount a ferocious push against the Aggies. Less than a minute after Gemelos went down, Ashley Corral nailed her second of what would become five 3-pointers in the game. Freshmen Alexyz Vaioletama and Ariya Crook, along with junior Christina Marinacci and senior Briana Gilbreath, would also drain threes while the Trojans were also tough on the defensive boards to propel during a push to a 67-57 lead with 5:07 to go. Texas A&M would regroup, however, and kept USC from scoring any further field goals the rest of the way. Three free throws fell for the Trojans, but the Aggies managed to drain a winning 3-pointer with 10 seconds to go, and USC was unable to get back ahead in the remaining moments to wind up with the 71-70 loss. Corral led USC with 16 points, with Gilbreath and Vaioletama each adding 12 and Cassie Harberts providing 10.

    In head coach Michael Cooper's second season at Troy, the Women of Troy experienced a successful postseason that saw USC make a run to the WNIT title match. The 2011 Women of Troy finished the year with a 24-13 overall record after a 10-8 mark in Pac-10 play. The 24 wins was the most by a USC team since 1993-94, and USC's 18 road games in the season the Trojans set another program record. Juniors Ashley Corral and Briana Gilbreath both earned All-Pac-10 Team honors for the second straight season, with Jacki Gemelos picking up her first conference honors with All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention. Newcomer Cassie Harberts was named to the Pac-10 All-Freshman Team and also had a spot on the Pac-10 All-Tournament Team alongside Corral. Corral and Gilbreath would also garner WNIT All-Tournament Team accolades, and Gilbreath became the first Trojan since 1997 to earn an AP All-American selection with an Honorable Mention pick after standing out as USC's leader in scoring, rebounds, blocks and steals in her junior season. Corral and Gilbreath made more Trojan history in both scoring their 1,000th career points last season. Gilbreath hit the mark on Jan. 22, 2011, and Corral followed suit on Feb. 10, 2011. Corral also took over as USC's all-time leader in career 3-pointers on that same day.