The USC women’s basketball team clinched the third seed in the Pac-10 tournament on Saturday with a comeback victory over Arizona State, 62-52.
USC (18-11, 12-6) used a dominating second half to beat the Sun Devils (17-12, 9-9); the Women of Troy outscored Arizona State 36-19 after halftime.
“We had the same record [as ASU] coming in, and we knew we needed this win,” senior guard Hailey Dunham said. “[It was] tough to be down seven at halftime but to come out with a 10-point win at the end was something we really needed.”
Arizona State seized an early lead in the game on the strength of its inside play. The Sun Devils pounded the ball inside and scored 24 of their 33 first-half points in the paint. USC shot just 30 percent in the first half and entered the break down seven points.
The second half was a different story for the Women of Troy. USC employed a small lineup for much of the second half and harassed the Sun Devils into 15 turnovers and just 19 points.
“We’re not as big as a lot of teams, but Hailey [Dunham] and Christina [Marinacci] are [as] feisty as anybody that’s “6’4”, 6’5”, so I feel comfortable and confident that they can get down there and hold their own,” USC coach Michael Cooper said.
The Women of Troy opened the second half on a tear and tied the score at 43 on a Dunham layup. The game was a back-and-forth affair from then on until USC pulled away late. Redshirt junior guard Jacki Gemelos delivered the knockout punch with a steal and layup that pushed the lead to 52-46 late in the game.
Sophomore guard Ashley Corral said the team changed up its defensive focus after halftime and keyed in on Arizona State guard Danielle Orsillo.
“Just little things like being late on screens, getting hit on screens — we focused on that and executed it,” Corral said.
The Sun Devils shot 26 percent from the field in the second half.
Corral led the Women of Troy with 20 points and three assists. She also added four 3-pointers to further her school record for threes made in a season. Dunham added seven points, six rebounds and some gritty defense down low.
“I think I was outweighed by quite a bit, but I tried to use [my] muscle to bang around down low and try to shut them down,” she said.
Freshman forward Christina Marinacci finished with nine points and seven rebounds. Senior forward Aarika Hughes chipped in nine points in her final regular season game for USC.
“To be among the elites you have to beat the elites, and this was a big, big game,” Cooper said. “It’s always nice to end the season on a positive note because, if you head into a conference championship, you always want to go in on a positive note.”
The Women of Troy set their best conference mark since the 2004-2005 season with the victory. Their 18 wins on the season are the most in four years.
USC earned a first-round bye in the conference tournament and opens up against Oregon in the quarterfinals at 5 p.m. on Friday. The two teams split the regular-season series.