With just two games left in the regular season, the women’s basketball team is projected to be the “first team out” of the NCAA tournament, according to ESPN.com.
That means if the tournament was seeded today, USC (16-11, 8-8) would be left out of the 64-team field.
If the Women of Troy are going to prove that prediction wrong, they have no margin for error against Washington State and Washington in their final home stand of the year, which starts tonight against Washington State (8-20, 6-10) at 7 p.m.
“After those two losses, we’re hungry and we want to beat these two Washington schools,” said senior guard Jacki Gemelos. “We know how important [each game] is from this point on.”
The two losses dropped USC into a tie for fourth-place in the Pac-10 with Arizona.
Both schools own 8-8 conference records and trail Arizona State by one game.
The two teams who end up finishing fourth and fifth will play each other in the second round of the Pac-10 tournament next week.
“You can’t be sad [about losses] for too long, because we have two huge games coming up that could really help us for the tournament,” Gemelos said.
Fortunately for USC, the Cougars are coming into Los Angeles on a cold streak, failing to secure a single victory in their recent three-game home stand.
Washington State has also lost four of its last five games.
USC cannot take the Cougars lightly, however, as last year, it fell to them at the Galen Center, 63-52.
With Washington State out of contention for a NCAA tournament bid, it could still play the role of spoiler and play for pride.
The Cougars will be looking to improve upon their best conference record in a decade — the last time Washington State finished with six conference wins was the 2000-01 season.
Freshman forward Sage Romberg leads Washington State with 9.3 points per game, but the team relies on its depth to compete.
The Cougars have no player averaging double-digit scoring, but have eight players who score more than five points per game, and nine players who average more than 10 minutes of playing time per game.
More important than what the Women of Troy do on the offensive end will be what they do on the other end of the court.
USC has four players ranked in the top-20 in rebounding (Gilbreath, sophomore Christina Marinacci, freshman Cassie Harberts and senior center Kari LaPlante) in the Pac-10, but Washington State has none.
When the Women of Troy have outrebounded their opponents this season, they are 11-0.
Conversely, when they lose the rebounding edge, they are 5-11.
In USC’s previous games this season against both Washington squads, the Women of Troy outrebounded and outscored their opponents. They beat the Cougars 72-57 and the Huskies 60-51.
If the Women of Troy sweep the Washington schools and make a run in the Pac-10 tournament, they will likely be able to participate in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006.
“It would be so amazing to [make the tournament],” Gemelos said. “We’re going to do everything in our power to get there.”