The USC women’s basketball team knows a lot is on the line.
The Women of Troy (1-2) went into this season ranked No. 23, but following a pair of road losses last weekend, received just nine votes in this week’s Associated Press top-25 poll.
After a loss against No. 12 Georgia last Sunday and an upset by unranked Nebraska 68-50 last Friday, the team will head to the Bahamas for the Junkanoo Jam this weekend.
With the tournament set to start Friday, the Women of Troy will battle No. 2 Notre Dame first, then face either No. 8 Duke or Gardner-Webb on Saturday.
“We’re getting ready for the pressure [defense] we’re gonna see in the next four games, including Notre Dame in the Bahamas,” senior guard Jacki Gemelos said. “It’s a different type of team. The East Coast teams are more pressure-oriented.”
Entering the competition with back-to-back losses might mean USC will be seen as weak, but freshman forward Alexyz Vaioletama could not stress the team’s determination enough.
“It’s either go big or go home,” Vaioletama said. “We’re going big, we’re not backing down. It’s good for us to be an underdog, because [Notre Dame] may underestimate us and not know what our strengths and weaknesses are.”
The games against Nebraska and Georgia could have been easy road wins for the Women of Troy. The team’s progress was arguably set back by consecutive losses. The importance of road wins is not only crucial for the team’s record, but also for its ranking.
“We have to go out on the road and get big wins. That’s a big showing, when you’re on the road, for the committee,” senior guard Ashley Corral said. “We need to show that we’re just as good as those top-25 teams.”
Playing such highly ranked teams in the Bahamas will not only give the Women of Troy a shot at redemption, but also a chance to get a taste of what March Madness play would be like.
Notre Dame (3-1) would prove a challenge for any team at this point in its season, but it comes off a recent loss against No. 1 Baylor, while Gardner-Webb has started off its season with a 0-4 record, the first time since 2005 it has boasted such a record.
Duke (3-0) has recently seen a strong performance from reserve Tricia Liston, who scored a career-high 22 points in the Blue Devils’ last game, resulting in a 80-54 victory against Western Kentucky.
“Competing against teams such as Notre Dame and Georgia and Texas A&M on their turf or on a neutral site definitely gets you ready for when you get to play in the tournament,” USC coach Michael Cooper said.