Women of Troy have chance to surprise


For those of you who thought the USC basketball season ended March 6, I got news for you.

You’re wrong.

For the team that overcame adversity and had to adjust to a new coach at the beginning of the season, recorded huge wins over ranked teams, suffered through injuries and bad losses and was boosted back up by the presence of an impact player who was absent at the beginning of the season, there is still a chance it can make the NCAA tournament.

Of course, I’m talking about the Women of Troy.

Yes, the men are done for the season. No two ways about it.

But the women are still fighting for their first tournament bid since 2006 — a fight that will actually occur right in our own backyard.

Thanks to a five-game winning streak to end the season, USC snagged the third seed in the Pac-10 tournament this weekend at the Galen Center. Yet the Women of Troy most likely need one or even two wins to secure their spot in the NCAA tournament.

According to ESPN’s Bracketologist Charlie Crème, USC is currently one of the last four in the tournament and he currently has the Women of Troy as a 10 seed.

If it weren’t for a five-game losing streak, which was sandwiched in between two five-game winning streaks, in the first half of February, the Women of Troy most likely wouldn’t have to worry about their tournament chances.

With impressive wins over No. 23 UCLA (for the sake of this article, all rankings will be current) and No. 15 Texas, to go along with a 12-6 conference record, USC boasts a quality résumé. Its Pac-10 record is the best since the 2004-2005 season and could have been even better without the slump.

USC even has some impressive losses, if such a thing actually exists. In the first game of the year, the Women of Troy lost to No. 5 Xavier in overtime and were barely clipped by No. 7 Duke 78-72 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Yet, impressive non-conference performance isn’t the only thing the women’s team has in common with the men’s — who defeated ranked teams such as Tennessee and UNLV, as well as St. Mary’s who beat No. 17 Gonzaga Monday night to earn its ticket to the NCAA tournament.

Two months before Tim Floyd submitted his letter of resignation, women’s coach Mark Trakh submitted his. After serving as head coach at the school for five seasons and posting a solid 90-64 record, he decided to call it quits.

Maybe he was frustrated that his five-star recruits kept getting injured. Maybe he was upset the team hadn’t made the NCAA tournament in the last three years after getting there in his first two seasons. Maybe Athletic Director Mike Garrett just had enough of him.

Whatever it was, the Women of Troy were looking for a new coach and found one in former Los Angeles Lakers star Michael Cooper.

Cooper has brought a professional work ethic (Larry Bird once called him the best defender he ever played against) but also a sense of looseness to the USC women’s team. After the win against UCLA, Cooper endeared himself to Trojan fans everywhere by starting his press conference in a sarcastic tone, “My opening statement is, f— UCLA.”

Cooper later apologized for his comment, but the fact of the matter remained: Cooper instilled some swagger and confidence in the Women of Troy.

That confidence was only helped by the much-overdue USC debut of redshirt junior Jacki Gemelos in February, which came with glowing reviews.

Three and a half years and four knee surgeries later, the 2006 McDonald’s All-American and National Player of the Year finally suited up for the Women of Troy against California.

It took a little while for Gemelos to scrape off the rust, but she has put up double-digit points every game.

As Daily Trojan beat writer Jeff Curtis so eloquently put it, “For every turnover she commits, Gemelos makes five plays that remind you why so many people called her a once-in-a-decade prospect in high school. Talent oozes out of her. Gemelos is a gifted and willing passer, a deadly outside shooter and good for at least one ‘did you see that’ moment a game.”

Yet, while Gemelos has been the feel-good story of the Women of Troy this year, the team’s rock has been sophomore Ashley Corral.

She was the first USC women’s basketball player to be named Pac-10 Player of the Week after setting a single-season record for 3-pointers made in a season and hitting clutch free throws in close wins over both Arizona schools this past weekend.

So even though the men’s team won’t wow us with another Cinderella-type run through the Pac-10 tournament this year, there is still meaningful basketball being played in the Galen Center this weekend. Despite the new coach, the injuries and the midseason losing streak, the program that was once a national powerhouse is looking to get back to the tournament for the first time in four years. The least we can do is show some school pride and cheer them on.

“Spittin’ Sports” runs Wednesdays. To comment on this article, visit dailytrojan.com or e-mail Kenny at klegan23@gmail.com.

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