It won’t be remembered as an offensive masterpiece, but the USC women’s basketball team has to feel good after snapping a five-game losing streak Saturday night against Washington.
USC (14-11, 8-6) scraped and clawed its way to a narrow 56-51 win over the Huskies (9-16, 4-11) despite shooting just 34 percent from the field. A newfound commitment to rebounding and tenacious defense carried the Women of Troy to victory.
“We do a lot of rebounding and beat on each other in practice,” junior center Kari LaPlante said. “It’s finally paid off. We came out there with a lot of energy and passion.”
Redshirt junior guard Jacki Gemelos and LaPlante said the crowd and an unusual pregame pep talk by USC coach Michael Cooper gave the Women of Troy an added boost. Cooper played the team a recording of a halftime speech by former Indiana coach Bob Knight.
“It was inspiring,” Cooper said. “It had me inspired earlier in the day so I thought I’d play it for the team.”
Whatever Knight said in the speech worked. USC was the more active team for much of the game and came up with seemingly every loose ball. In an unfamiliar turn of events, the Women of Troy outrebounded Washington 36-30 and grabbed 15 offensive rebounds.
Freshman forward Christina Marinacci played well in her second career start, and set the tone for the game with three early offensive rebounds. She finished with five points, four rebounds and three steals.
“Starting her gives us another player that’s going to go with [LaPlante] and put her head under the basket,” Cooper said. “Good things happen when you get a rebounder like that.”
Poor shooting by Washington helped the Women of Troy take a 28-22 lead into the locker room at halftime. The Huskies made just 8-of-27 shots in the half and turned the ball over nine times.
Washington guard Kristi Kingma kept the Huskies close in the first half with 12 points. Kingma finished with a game-high 15 points but was largely ineffective in the second half.
“Our focus [in the first half] was on [guard Sami] Whitcomb,” Cooper said. “I don’t think we made too much of an adjustment in the second half, other than [we] just paid more attention to her and guarded her.”
A slow start to the second half by USC allowed the Huskies to build a 44-38 lead with 10 minutes left in the game. Washington knocked down nine of its first 12 shots in the half and looked to be well on its way to victory before a series of clutch plays by USC turned the game around.
Senior guard Daniela Roark started the run with a baseline three-pointer that pulled the Women of Troy to within two points. Sophomore guard Briana Gilbreath tied the game at 44 with an offensive rebound and putback. Gemelos knocked down a deep three-pointer against the shot clock to give USC a one-point lead it would not relinquish.
The play of the game came courtesy of LaPlante, who hit a turnaround jumper in the post that gave USC a 54-51 lead with 22 seconds left. Sophomore guard Ashley Corral stole the ball and knocked down two free throws for the final margin.
Gemelos led the Women of Troy with 13 points in just 19 minutes. LaPlante and Gilbreath added 10 points apiece for USC.
“It’s not bittersweet anymore,” Gemelos said after picking up her first win in five tries. “It feels great.”
USC beat the Huskies 69-65 earlier this season in Seattle. The Women of Troy travel north to take on the Oregon schools next week.