Tourney seed hard earned but deserved

The Women of Troy clinched third place in conference play — their highest finish since the 2004-2005 season — and now head into the Pac-10 tournament riding a five-game winning streak.

“We’re very fortunate and lucky to be in the third slot, and I think it’s great for our university,” USC coach Michael Cooper said. “We’ve experienced some terrible lulls, but it seems like we’ve got ourselves back together … it was definitely good ending the season [that way] heading into the Pac-10 [tournament].”

Time to shine · In just his first year as the coach of USC, Michael Cooper has led the Women of Troy to the third seed in the Pac-10 conference, the team’s highest ranking in five years. The Women of Troy begin play against Oregon at the Galen Center. - Tim Tran | Daily Trojan

This season was anything but smooth for the Women of Troy (18-11, 12-6), who managed to string together two five-game winning streaks this season, but had a five-game losing streak in between.

The coaching staff, however, wasn’t too worried.

“We just had to re-focus ourselves,” Cooper said. “We were winning games by the skin of our teeth … we just had to come back and go back to the beginning and get back to what we were doing that was helping us win basketball games.”

Now, they turn their attention to the Oregon Ducks (16-14, 7-11), who boast one of the most prolific offenses in the nation.

The Women of Troy and the Ducks split their two meetings during the regular season, with both teams winning away.

The Ducks are led by senior guard Taylor Lilley, who averaged 17.5 points per game during the regular season.

But she isn’t the only offensive threat — the Ducks boast three other players who average in double figures.

“We’re going to have to take care of Oregon’s offense,” Cooper said. “It’s going to require us to get back for 40 minutes because they want to run at every opportunity.”

Not only do the Women of Troy have to focus on defense, but one of their constant struggles throughout the season has been rebounding the basketball.

“Our biggest nemesis all year long has been rebounding,” Cooper said. “We have to rebound by committee, and [everybody] will have to help out.”

This season, the Women of Troy have been led by the play of sophomore guards Ashley Corral and Briana Gilbreath, but the supporting cast for the team has played a big role in their success as well.

Redshirt junior guard Jacki Gemelos has provided the team with solid play off the bench since she came back from injury, and freshman forward Christina Marinacci has given the team a presence down low since being thrust into a starting role.

Though the Women of Troy will be playing at the Galen Center during the Pac-10 tournament, home-court advantage will hardly play a role, if any.

And if the Women of Troy hope to earn a NCAA tournament bid, they know they’ll just have to be successful no matter the venue.

“Championships are won on the road,” Cooper said. “It doesn’t matter where we’re playing … We just have to get the job done.”

Tip-off is scheduled for 5 p.m.

A win tonight would set up a date with No. 2 seed and crosstown rival UCLA on Saturday at 5 p.m. in the semifinals of the tournament.

The Women of Troy split both meetings with the Bruins as well, with each team winning on its home floor.

If the Women of Troy manage to beat both Oregon and UCLA, they will play for the Pac-10 tournament championship with an automatic NCAA bid at stake.

Their likely opponent would be the Stanford Cardinal, who hold the No. 1 seed in the tournament for the ninth straight season.

The championship game will be held Sunday at 3 p.m.