This season, the USC women’s basketball team has shown an ability to defend its home court by any means necessary.
The Women of Troy (13-6, 5-3) have won high-scoring shootouts and defensive battles.
On Thursday, they overcame a slow start to beat Arizona 81-72.
The win, coupled with a loss by Arizona State, moved USC back into sole possession of third place in the conference.
Arizona (13-6, 4-4) dropped one game back in the conference race with the loss.
“After a tough weekend up north, I thought we rebounded and responded extremely well,” said USC coach Michael Cooper. “I thought we did a good job of playing hard for 40 minutes.”
Early on, it looked like the Women of Troy might be suffering a hangover from their blowout loss last weekend to Stanford.
USC failed to generate much offense for most of the first half, although the team closed the half strong on a 16-7 run.
That spurt helped the Women of Troy take a 31-23 lead into the break, despite Wildcats guard Brooke Jackson banking in a three-pointer at the halftime buzzer.
“As long as we keep playing hard and hitting our shots those kind of [runs] happen,” said sophomore forward Christina Marinacci.
At halftime, junior guard Briana Gilbreath led the Women of Troy with 10 points and five rebounds.
As a team, USC shot just 40 percent from the floor, but held Arizona to 25 percent shooting in a half where the Wildcats had more turnovers (13) than field goals (7).
In the second half, both sides rebounded from their early offensive struggles.
USC went to freshman forward Cassie Harberts early and often to start the second half.
Harberts shot the ball on the Women of Troy’s first four possessions, converting three of those opportunities.
“Cassie makes herself very available down there,” Cooper said. “She moves well and she knows where to be at.”
The outburst helped the Women of Troy stake a quick double-digit lead in the half, which they maintained for most of the second half.
Arizona did close the gap to 69-63 with three minutes remaining on a steal and breakaway layup by forward Ify Ibekwe, but the outcome was never seriously in doubt after the break.
“I think we relaxed a little bit more,” Gilbreath said. “Things started opening up real wide for us. We got easy layups, we ran the floor well, we had good [spacing] and the shots were there.”
Gilbreath continued to give the Women of Troy a little bit of everything, scoring a team-high 20 points and adding nine rebounds, five assists and two blocks.
Marinacci chipped in a season-high 17 points and just missed a double-double of her own with nine rebounds.
Up next for the Women of Troy is a home date on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. against Arizona, who played No. 10 UCLA tough on Thursday and sits just one game back in the standings.
“Every game from here on out is a big game for us,” Marinacci said. “Especially playing at home because we want to keep this winning streak going.”