2011-12 USC Women's Basketball Outlook
Oct. 20, 2011
A road-tested and decorated USC women's basketball roster is back for more this season. Not only did the Women of Troy play in 11 different states in amassing a program record of 18 road games last season, two Trojans made the most of those road trips in crossing the 1,000-point threshold. Both those Women of Troy return, making the backbone of the 2011-12 USC roster stronger than ever before as it enters its third season under the guidance of head coach Michael Cooper.
Senior guards Ashley Corral and Briana Gilbreath roll into their final seasons looking to snowball extra scoring into their 1,000-point-plus Trojan careers. The pair earned 2011 WNIT All-Tournament Team honors as the Women of Troy streaked into the WNIT title match and finished up with a 24-13 overall record after fourth-place, 10-8 mark in Pac-10 play. The successful postseason push racked up the most season wins since 1993-94 for the Trojans. Gilbreath herself made a little extra history in earning AP All-America Honorable Mention at the close of the season -- making her the first Trojan to earn AP honors since Tina Thompson picked up a spot on the AP All-America Second Team in 1997.
For 2011-12, the Women of Troy aim to ink even more historic marks into the books. For the second straight season, USC brings back four all-conference honorees. Now two-time All-Pac-10 Team members, Corral and Gilbreath have led USC in scoring for the past two seasons as they start up 2011-12 as seniors. But those two aren't the true veterans of the bunch. Multiple knee injuries have kept both Jacki Gemelos and Stefanie Gilbreath off the court far too long, but the grad student and fifth-year senior are now enjoying "Super Senior" status. Sidelined for a collective six-and-a-half seasons, Gemelos and Gilbreath both had breakout seasons last year. The top recruit as a freshman in 2006, Gemelos was USC's third leading scorer last season in her first full season of action and picked up All-Pac-10 Honorable Mention. Stefanie Gilbreath stepped on the court for the first time last season and was a contributor in all 13 games for which she was healthy.
Compared to the 14 years of combined time at USC among those four guards, 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 has played in every game since coming to 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.
Bulking up the experience section on the 2011-12 Trojan roster is sophomore guard Desireé Bradley, who appeared in 27 games last season as a true freshman. Redshirt freshman forward Thaddesia Southall is primed for her first round of playing time after sitting out last season to heal from a knee injury, making it a powerful batch of fresh faces on the roster for 2011-12.
Cooper and his coaching staff have added a premier class of incoming talent, with a group of athletes that rank as the No. 8 class in the nation. Guard Ariya Crook and forward Alexyz Vaioletama are projected to be impact players in their first seasons as Trojans. Their fellow freshmen Deanna Calhoun and Kiki Alofaituli, meanwhile, will sit out the season along with junior transfer Kate Oliver, who comes to Troy from Australia by way of two years at Marist. Calhoun is coming back from a high school-sustained knee injury, and Alofaituli will sit out per NCAA rules. Redshirt junior forward Michelle Jenkins will not likely play this season due to injury.
The USC season as a whole takes on a new look as well with the addition of Colorado and Utah to the conference. Pac-12 action debuts for the Trojans against defending conference champion Stanford, but USC is just one of three 2011 NCAA Final Four teams on the Trojan schedule this season. In fact, before conference play even kicks off, USC will have faced six NCAA tournament teams.
USC's season opener brings one of those teams to Troy in Fresno State, which the Women of Troy will face on November 11 at 5 p.m. in a double-header with the USC men. Two games later, the Trojans will be on the road against Sweet Sixteen squad Georgia before heading to the Bahamas to join three more 2011 NCAA tournament teams -- Duke, Notre Dame and Gardner Webb -- for two games over the Thanksgiving holiday. Already noted road warriors, the Women of Troy will visit five different U.S. states during their nonconference stretch.
"Our schedule is one to rival many across the country," coach Cooper said. "In order to be considered one of the best, you have to play the best. It's a schedule that's definitely going to test our team and our character. But character is something that you need to win and to get to the tournament. This schedule is the best way to get to where we want to be. It will definitely get us ready for conference play. With the additions of Utah and Colorado, we have to be tested as a team and tested on the road as a good road team."
Just to make sure that the world doesn't miss the Trojans' push through the 2011-12 season, several of USC's games will be televised. The Dec. 18 game at defending NCAA champ Texas A&M will be broadcast live on FSN, as will three Pac-12 clashes: Feb. 5 vs. Washington, Feb 9 at Stanford, and Feb. 19 vs. UCLA.
"I think our TV schedule will be good and will let people know about the USC women's basketball program as a team on the rise," Cooper said. "It will give people around the country the opportunity to see us and what we're about. And I think it's great for the Pac-12 to get out and play teams and let people see that this conference in itself can rival the SEC, ACC and Big East."