The Women of Troy (1-0) started off their season with a statement on Friday after pulling out a thrilling 79-73 victory over No. 22 Gonzaga (0-1) at the Galen Center.
Junior guard Briana Gilbreath led the Women of Troy with 21 points and 10 rebounds, while sophomore forward Christina Marinacci also chipped in with a double-double of her own, registering 16 points and 10 rebounds.
“I thought it was a very well played game by both teams,” USC coach Michael Cooper said. “Even though we struggled, we continued to play hard.”
Trailing 25-14 late in the first half, the Women of Troy mounted a significant comeback, going on a 14-2 run to take a one-point lead at 28-27.
The run was highlighted by the play of senior guard Jacki Gemelos, who scored six points and set up senior center Kari LaPlante for a layup.
But after momentarily taking the lead, the Bulldogs responded with a 10-2 run of their own — a three-point play by guard Courtney Vandersloot capped the run and sent the Bulldogs into halftime leading 37-30.
Other than that three-point play by Vandersloot, the Women of Troy managed to slow down the two-time West Coast Conference Player of the Year, forcing her into a 7-of-22 shooting night.
“[Vandersloot] is a very good player, but Ashley [Corral] did a great job containing her and getting her out of her [comfort zone],” Gilbreath said.
The Women of Troy began the second half slowly cutting into the Bulldogs lead thanks to the play of Marinacci, who scored from outside, inside and helped set up her teammates off offensive rebounds.
“I knew going into the second half, if we were going to win, I needed to lead by example and have somebody for my teammates to look to,” Marinacci said.
Trailing 44-40 with 14:25 to play in the second half, the Women of Troy scored 12 unanswered points to seize the lead 52-44 with 11:41.
But in a game highlighted by runs, the Bulldogs would respond again with a 17-9 rout, knotting the game up at 61 with 5:30 left to play.
Both teams would go back and forth, with the lead changing five times in the next few minutes, but the Women of Troy took the lead for good at 69-67 on freshman Cassie Harberts layup with 3:26 remaining.
Gemelos extended the lead to four points with a layup of her own, but the Bulldogs would cut the lead to two points at 71-69 after a pair of free throws by Janelle Bekkering.
Gilbreath extended the lead to five points, 74-69, after converting a three-point play, but the Bulldogs would respond again. Two more free throws by the Bulldogs kept the game within reach at 74-71.
Still, USC refused to let the Bulldogs steal a victory at home.
A three-point play by Harberts and a shot-clock-buzzer-beating shot by Gilbreath sealed the victory for the Women of Troy.
Another bright spot for the Women of Troy was the return of redshirt sophomore guard Stefanie Gilbreath, who saw her first action in three years after having three knee surgeries.
Despite the victory, the Women of Troy struggled to take care of the ball, committing 25 turnovers.
“It’s disappointing that we came out there and had that many turnovers,” Marinacci said. “But it’s something that we really need to focus on, especially going into the Duke game.”
All in all, the coaching staff said the victory was hard-fought but knows there is room for improvement, especially going into next week’s game.
“Champions find a way to win,” Cooper said. “Overall, I wasn’t happy with the way we played, but we’re still trying to find ourselves. When we needed it though, we came through, and sometimes you can get wins just by playing hard and I thought we did that and were able to get this win.”
Today, the Women of Troy are on the road as they take on No. 5 Duke at 4 p.m.
“We’ll be ready to play,” Cooper said. “Obviously, we won’t be able to win with 25 turnovers, but if we cut that in half, we’ll be fine.”