With time winding down late in the second half at the Galen Center, sophomore guard Briana Gilbreath figured it was time she made a play.
“I felt like I hadn’t played good all game,” Gilbreath said. “I just needed to help my team out in some possible way and that was kind of my time.”
Gilbreath broke open a close game by stealing a pass in the backcourt and taking it the length of the court for the game-winning layup.
“They got sloppy with the ball so I just went out there and took it,” she said. “It was a major play for us.”
The steal and score capped a furious rally for USC that culminated in a 68-63 win over Fresno State on Sunday. The victory was the first of the season for the Women of Troy, who lost their season opener to No. 11 Xavier on Friday.
Gilbreath led the Women of Troy with 17 points and seven rebounds. Fellow sophomore Ashley Corral struggled from the field but chipped in 10 points and seven assists.
USC coach Michael Cooper was pleased with the resolve his team showed against a tough early season opponent.
“I think Fresno State is obviously a tournament team,” Cooper said. “To come here and give us all we could handle was a testament to how good they are.”
Despite shooting poorly all evening, the Women of Troy were able to overcome a 32-29 halftime deficit thanks to some increased defensive pressure. Cooper said the team did a better job of keying in on the Fresno State shooters after halftime, which forced the Bulldogs into contested shots.
“One of the things we wanted to do was run them off that 3-point line,” he said. “They got up 30 [3-point] attempts but a lot of them were forced.”
USC trailed 55-48 late in the second half before scoring 13 unanswered points. A baseline 3-pointer by senior Heather Oliver pushed the margin to six with four minutes remaining. USC held Fresno State scoreless for almost six minutes during that span.
The Bulldogs roared back, going on a quick 5-0 run to cut the deficit to 61-60. Fresno State also tied at the game at 63 before Gilbreath put it away for good.
Freshman Christina Marinacci provided a spark off the bench for the Women of Troy, grabbing six offensive rebounds and scoring 11 points.
“You just want to look to be aggressive and crash the boards on offense,” Marinacci said. “Especially when you have a height advantage like we did against this team.”
Junior Kari LaPlante added 12 points and 6 rebounds for the Women of Troy. Juniors Jaleesa Ross and Hayley Munro led the Bulldogs with 22 and 21 points, respectively.
The Women of Troy fell 81-71 in overtime to Xavier on Friday, despite a career-high 25 points from Corral and 19 points and three steals from Gilbreath. On Sunday, USC was able to overcome an off-night from Corral to secure its first victory.
“Our team is not built around one person having to score 25 every night,” Cooper said after Sunday’s game. “Other people stepped up [today] and played extremely well. Getting four players in double figures is always a good sign.”
USC now heads north to Spokane, Wash., to take on Gonzaga on Thursday night.