When the USC women’s basketball team faces Gonzaga (1-1) on Thursday in Spokane, Wash., it will mark a couple of firsts for the team.
The game will be the first road contest of the season for the Women of Troy (1-1), who are coming off a 68-63 victory over Fresno State. And it will be the first meeting between the two schools in history.
It will not, however, be the first time sophomore guard Ashley Corral matches up against Bulldogs star Courtney Vandersloot, the reigning WCC Newcomer of the Year.
Corral, a native of Washington, and Vandersloot were rivals in high school and now take that rivalry to the collegiate stage.
“I know she’s a great defensive player and offensive player,” Corral said. “It’s going to take a lot for us to handle her, but I’m used to her game and I think I can [contain] her.”
Corral is not the only person excited to play her old rival. USC coach Michael Cooper said he looked forward to seeing the two lead guards face each other.
“It’s a good test for Ashley at this point and time in the season,” Cooper said. “You’ve got a player who may not be as deft at scoring as you are, but a very good point guard who runs her team extremely well.”
Vandersloot ranked third nationally last season with nearly eight assists per game, and has been performing just as well this season. The main beneficiaries of her passing have been seniors Tiffanie Shives and Heather Bowman, who each average more than 15 points per game.
USC will have to turn in a strong defensive performance if it wants to beat the high-scoring Bulldogs, who return four starters from last season’s 27-win team. Cooper credited his team for playing solid defense through its first two games and said that trend would have to continue.
“We’ve been hanging our hats on [defense] all season,” he said. “Defense can definitely win you some games on the road, and that’s the approach that we’re going to take.”
Briana Gilbreath will be called upon to answer Gonzaga’s high- scoring offense. Gilbreath scored 17 points in USC’s win over Fresno St.
Slowing down the Bulldogs would be difficult enough without having to deal with a hostile crowd, but the Women of Troy will have to face that challenge in Spokane. The Bulldogs enjoy one of the best home court advantages in the country and went 14-3 at home last season.
Still, Cooper does not expect his team to be fazed by the noise or successful home record.
“We’ve been practicing for situations like that where we’re going to treat it as our home court,” he said. “Yes, it’s going to be a little difficult, but nothing we can’t handle.”
It will be incumbent on Corral to settle her team down in front of a hostile crowd where, as one player put it, the opposing team is down 10 points before the game starts.
“It’s a tough environment to play in,” Corral said. “I have to get the team calm and settled, execute the offense and let the game come to me.”
Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m.