Résumés don’t lie. Well, not most of the time.
Through the first 17 games of this season, the USC women’s basketball team has compiled a 10-7 overall mark in spite of playing the third- toughest nonconference slate in the country, according to RealTimeRPI.com.
The Women of Troy, who are 5-2 in Pac-12 play, are also projected by most Bracketology experts to secure a bid to the NCAA tournament come March for the first time since 2006.
Considering the preseason expectations -— when they were ranked No. 23 in the Associated Press top-25 poll — this is about right where they should be. Nearly midway through conference play, this looks like the team we thought we would see in mid-January.
Yes, by and large, they’re playing well.
Even without senior guard Jacki Gemelos, who underwent her fifth reconstructive knee surgery after a Dec. 18 contest at Texas A&M, USC coach Michael Cooper’s resilient bunch has trudged forward. It would have been easy to sulk, or to cite injuries as a reason for poor performances. After all, it has had an effect. Instead, since Gemelos’ season-ending injury, they are playing as well as they have played all season, winning six of their last eight games, including five of seven during Pac-12 play.
Sure, Saturday’s overtime loss to Oregon State at the Galen Center in front of an announced crowd of 1,803 -— the largest of the season — was embarrassing, which ended up snapping a five-game winning streak. Cooper conceded as much in the moments following the disappointing finish.
“When you want to be an elite team — and I’m not saying Oregon State is a bad team — you have to win these games at home,” the third-year coach said after the disappointing game.
Despite its recent surge, USC didn’t play well on Saturday. It let the Beavers, who had won just two conference games entering the contest, shoot 46 percent from the field and a remarkably high 64 percent in the first half.
The Women of Troy pride themselves on their defensive fortitude, but that was evidently lacking, at least for most of the game.
But adjusting to Gemelos’ absence isn’t as easy as the Women of Troy have made it look thus far. After all, the Stockton, Calif. native led the conference in 3-point shooting percentage a season ago, and through nine games this season, averaged 11.2 points per game. That’s a substantial amount of production to lose for a team with high aspirations.
With Gemelos sidelined, senior guard Ashley Corral, who served more as a point guard prior to the injury, has been forced to shoulder even more of the scoring load. Against the Beavers, she hoisted 17 shot attempts for a game-high 20 points.
“She’s been asked to play a different role with our ball club,” Cooper said. “She’s doing a little more than she’s supposed to.”
Corral isn’t the only one doing more than was expected earlier in the season. Freshman guard Ariya Crook has been inserted into the lineup on a more frequent basis to share some of the point guard duties with Corral. In 19 minutes Saturday, she had one turnover and no assists. Playing point guard in major Division I college basketball is no small task.
It’s been a lot to handle, collectively, as evidenced by a sloppy game against visiting Oregon State, where the Women of Troy shot just 7-15 from the free-throw line and had 14 turnovers, as well.
But this is an experienced team, a team that boasts four upperclassmen in its starting lineup, including two seniors and a fourth-year junior, and though Saturday’s disappointing defeat was certainly frustrating for many in the cardinal and gold, they should recover. They’re too good not to.
They still feature two of the conference’s most talented players in Corral and senior guard Briana Gilbreath. Defensively, they have been exceptional, too -— at least for the majority of inter-conference play.
“There has been a lot of improvement with us as a team,” said Cooper, who is 53-32 in three seasons with the Women of Troy. “This is just a little setback and we’ll continue moving forward.”
Come March, Saturday will likely be a blemish on an already impressive resume.
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