A career night by freshman forward Cassie Harberts didn’t hurt, either. Harberts scored 31 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to lead the Women of Troy (19-11, 10-8) to a 78-66 victory over Washington State.
After the game, Harberts credited her performance to the work the team put in during the last two weeks pounding the ball inside. Senior center Kari LaPlante had a simpler explanation.
“No one could stop her, so we just kept going [to her],” LaPlante said.
Harberts’ outstanding performance notwithstanding, it was little-used freshman guard Desireé Bradley who helped spur USC on to victory. After a sluggish start that saw the Women of Troy miss 10 of their first 14 shots, Bradley knocked down two consecutive three-pointers to push USC to a 16-11 advantage.
From there, the starters — particularly Harberts — took over. USC scored on six straight possessions midway through the first half to break open the game. By the time the run was over, the Women of Troy held a seemingly comfortable 14-point lead with five minutes left in the first half.
But the Cougars (8-23, 6-12) went on a run of their own, closing the half on a 10-2 spurt. At the halftime buzzer, Washington State guard April Cook banked in a desperation heave from just inside half court to narrow the gap to 35-29 at the break.
“Sometimes we get a little flat but we always seem to pick it up and fight through it,” said senior guard Jacki Gemelos.
At halftime, Harberts led USC with 13 points and six rebounds. As a team, the Women of Troy shot 41 percent from the field compared to 37 percent shooting for the Cougars.
Both teams came out hot in the second half, with the Women of Troy scoring on their first three possessions. USC pushed its lead back to double digits at 50-39 on a putback by Harberts, and kept a similar margin for the remainder of the game.
“I commend these girls for playing extremely hard in the second half,” said USC coach Michael Cooper. “Now it’s all about the will to win.”
USC matched every three-pointer Washington State made — and there were plenty — by pounding it inside to Harberts. The Cougars kept the game close by connecting on 11 three-pointers.
In a bizarre sequence late in the game, the Women of Troy picked up four points — all on free throws — on one possession.
After Harberts knocked down two free throws, a Washington State player threw LaPlante to the ground. The 6-foot-5 senior knocked down both free throws to extend the USC lead to 67-51.
Gemelos added 13 points and nine rebounds for the Women of Troy. LaPlante added 10 points and eight rebounds. Harberts recorded her career-high by shooting 10-of-16 from the floor and 10-of-12 from the line.
“Give credit to USC,” said Washington State coach June Daugherty. “They took advantage of some great frontcourt play tonight.”
With the win, the Women of Troy move on to face Arizona today at 5:15 p.m. in the quarterfinals.
“We’re right there,” Cooper said. “This is the same record we had last year but we have the opportunity to improve on that [against Arizona].”