The USC women’s basketball team moved one step closer to the NCAA tournament with a narrow 55-53 victory over Arizona.
USC (17-11, 11-6) recorded its fourth straight victory in a game marked by a series of runs. The Women of Troy led by as many as 13 points in the second half before allowing Arizona (13-15, 6-11) to close within one point in the final minute.
“I thought it was a very well played game for about 35 minutes for us, but at this particular time we’re taking wins,” USC coach Michael Cooper said. “It wasn’t a pretty win, but it was a win we have to take to continue what we are striving to do.”
Sophomore guard Ashley Corral knocked down one of two free throws the final margin. The Wildcats missed an open three-pointer in the final seconds.
Junior center Kari LaPlante led USC with 13 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots. The Women of Troy capitalized early on a size advantage down low with LaPlante and freshman forward Christina Marinacci. The duo combined for 13 points and seven rebounds in the first half and helped USC take an early lead.
“Tonight Kari was very active rebounding for us and I thought that was a big plus as well as scoring when she got her opportunities,” Cooper said. “And again, you can’t pass up on her size.”
A late surge propelled USC to a double-digit halftime lead. Senior guard Hailey Dunham started the run with a pair of fast break layups, the first coming off a highlight-reel pass from Corral. Sophomore guard Briana Gilbreath ended the run with a midrange jumper right before the halftime buzzer.
Arizona came back in the second half behind some stellar play from forward Ify Ibekwe, who scored 16 of her 18 points in the half. Ibekwe missed much of the first half with foul trouble. A jump shot with 27 seconds left brought the Wildcats within one at 54-53.
Gilbreath finished with 10 points on 4 of 15 shooting but added eight assists and three steals for the Women of Troy. Backcourt mate Corral set the single-season school record for three-pointers with a pair of threes in the game. She finished with nine points and six assists.
“Records are always fun to have,” Corral said. “Right now I’m more focused on getting us to the NCAA tournament and getting this next win against Arizona State because I think that will take us into a good ride into the Pac-10 tournament.”
She finished with nine points and six assists.
USC wraps up the regular season with a home game against Arizona State on Saturday.