With each of their last three losses determined by eight points or less, the Women of Troy were ready to take a break from the dramatics.
USC (11-9, 5-4) dispelled a late UC Santa Barbara (8-12, 3-5) rally to take down its nonconference opponents 50-39 at home behind sophomore forward Cassie Harberts’ game-high 17 points.
Though USC’s win did not improve its conference record, it snapped a three-game skid that had pushed the team from second to fourth in the Pac-12 standings.
With the victory, the Women of Troy improve their overall record to 11-9 and maintain their distance from UCLA (10-10, 5-4), who share the same record in Pac-12 play.
“It was exactly what the doctor ordered,” USC coach Michael Cooper said. “We needed a win, and we got it.”
The Women of Troy led by as many as 21 points, but the Gauchos made a late push, cutting the lead down to nine off an and-one layup by forward Sweets Underwood with 57 seconds remaining.
After senior guard Ashley Corral countered with two free throws, USC junior forward Christina Marinacci forced a turnover, leading to her own and-one layup that put USC up 14, effectively sealing the game.
USC broke out after halftime with an 11-0 run, holding the Gauchos scoreless on 0-9 shooting. Guard Emilie Johnson ended the run with a lone free throw, to which the Women of Troy responded with a 7-2 run to extend their lead to 21.
Harberts led the charge for USC throughout the game, draining 10 of the team’s first 17 points to spark several runs for the Women of Troy. She hit the double-digit mark with 6:13 remaining in the first half.
She also pulled down six rebounds, including a tip-in layup off a missed 3-pointer two minutes into the second half.
“I think I just moved well without the ball so I could find those little open seams where my teammates are really great at getting me the ball,” Harberts said.
Freshman forward Alexyz Vaioletama started for the Women of Troy with senior guard Briana Gilbreath sidelined with a knee injury. Vaioletama grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds to go with her seven points.
The game started off slow for both teams, with the score deadlocked at two apiece for nearly seven minutes. Redshirt junior guard Stefanie Gilbreath ended the drought with a step-back 3-pointer with 13:14 remaining in the half.
Even without the team’s premier defender in Gilbreath, USC held UC Santa Barbara to only six makes on 31 tries for the first 20 minutes.
UC Santa Barbara’s scoring woes could be attributed to USC’s diligence on the defensive end, where they blocked four shots in the first half alone, compared to Santa Barbara’s zero.
“It goes back to the basics — boxing out, containing and looking for shooters to contest their shots,” Harberts said.
The Women of Troy will return to conference play with a match up at home against Washington State (10-11, 4-5) Thursday at 7 p.m., followed by another home game against Washington (11-8, 3-6) at 1 p.m. Sunday.