It wasn’t supposed to be this easy.
“We’re not surprised,” said senior guard Jacki Gemelos. “It was going to click at some point, and for us it clicked in the tournament.”
After escaping the first round of the WNIT with a three-point win over UC Santa Barbara, the Women of Troy (25-12) have been nearly untouchable. Against the Redbirds, USC corrected the only problem — slow starts — that plagued the team in earlier rounds.
“We were excited to play in front of such a big crowd,” said junior guard Ashley Corral. “We had to come out strong and kind of shut them up in a sense.”
Illinois State (24-12), which went undefeated at home this season, dug an early hole by missing its first 11 shots of the game.
USC, meanwhile, jumped out to a quick start behind hot shooting from Gemelos.
Midway through the first half, the Women of Troy held a 16-1 lead, the crowd was silent and the rout was on. Illinois State only drew within single digits twice after that for a total of 21 seconds, and never seriously challenged USC’s march to the WNIT championship.
“Everything is clicking right now for everybody, as a team and as individuals,” Gemelos said. “Winning is contagious. It gives us a swagger coming into each game.”
Gemelos led the Women of Troy with 11 points in the first half. Corral continued her torrid outside shooting by knocking down 2-of-3 three-point attempts in the half. Entering the game, Corral had connected on 17-of-22 three-pointers in the tournament.
“When Ashley’s hot, she’s hot,” Gemelos said. “You know the ball’s going in as soon as it comes off her hand.”
Illinois State finally got on track offensively midway through the first half, connecting on five straight outside shots to momentarily draw within single digits.
But USC weathered the run and took a 30-22 lead into the break.
“We knew they were going to come at us,” Corral said. “We had to take the punch and accept it.”
The second half was more of the same, with the Redbirds unable to find any kind of rhythm.
Illinois State missed eight of its first nine shots to open the half, allowing the Women of Troy to extend their lead to 43-24 with 13 minutes remaining.
USC’s defense took care of the rest, never letting Illinois State draw closer than 17 points the rest of the way, and holding the Redbirds to less than 20 percent shooting in the second half.
The Women of Troy led by as many as 27 points in the commanding performance. For the game, the Redbirds made just 16 of their 60 field goal attempts. USC connected on 24 of its 52 attempts.
Gemelos led USC with 15 points and seven rebounds. Corral added 14 points off the bench, and junior guard Briana Gilbreath chipped in 11 points and three steals for the Women of Troy.
No Illinois State player scored in double figures.
“We’re on a great roll,” Corral said. “We’re winning by a lot.”
Next up is a road game against Toledo University for the WNIT championship.
The Rockets cruised into the championship game with a 20-point drubbing of their own, taking down Charlotte 83-60.
“I don’t know much about [the Rockets] yet, but clearly they are doing something right,” Corral said.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday.