USC heads north to face Oregon schools

A few weeks ago, the women’s basketball team looked like it was a lock to receive a bid to the NCAA tournament this March. It was tied for second place in the Pac-10 with a 4-1 conference record and only one of its four losses was against an unranked team.

New lift · Sophomore forward Christina Marinacci has started the past three games for USC, averaging 10 points and five rebounds. - Tim Tran | Daily Trojan

Now, after losing four out of its past five games, the Women of Troy have a less than spectacular 13-8 record and are fifth in the Pac-10.

In ESPN’s latest tournament projections, USC is projected as a No. 9 seed. But the last update was before the Women of Troy’s 74-67 home loss to No. 9 UCLA.

Senior guard Jacki Gemelos scored 16 points to lead the Trojans against UCLA in the losing effort, converting four out of five of her three-point attempts.

“I let the game come to me, and took my shot when it was open,” Gemelos said. “I just want to continue to do that, not take anything out of character and hit my shots when I’m open.”

The close loss to the Bruins shouldn’t hurt the team’s chances too much, but letdowns against either Oregon or Oregon State this week would likely drop the Women of Troy into the bottom half of the Pac-10 standings.

For playing in a conference that only has two ranked teams, that is probably not good enough to make the NCAA tournament.

“This week is definitely going to be huge for us,” Gemelos said. “We need two wins down here, there’s no way to sugarcoat it.”

Oregon State (8-14, 1-10) is last in the Pac-10, but won its first game in the conference last week on the road against Washington. Before that, its last win was Dec. 21 against Eastern Washington.

The Beavers are led by freshman guard Alyssa Martin, who averages 14 points per game.

Earlier this season, the Women of Troy beat the Beavers 53-45 at home. Sophomore forward Christina Marinacci led all scorers in that game, scoring 14 points off the bench for the Trojans.

Now a starter for the Women of Troy, who suffered from sluggish starts this season, Marinacci will try to have that same type of positive impact against the Beavers on Thursday.

“On the bench, you get to pay more attention to how the referees are calling the game,” Marinacci said. “[But] I think I give us a spark [starting] with my rebounding and scoring.”

On Saturday, the Women of Troy will travel to Eugene toon Oregon’s new, forest-decorated court. Luckily for the Trojans, the Ducks (12-10, 3-8) haven’t been playing their best basketball lately, either. They have lost six of their last seven games.

But Oregon is 3-2 at home in conference games, and scores a Pac-10-leading 80.9 points per game. Fellow juniors Nia Jackson and Amanda Johnson are the two top scorers in the conference, averaging 17 and 16.7 points, respectively. Jackson also leads the Pac-10 in assists with 5.7 per game.

The Ducks complement their fast-paced offense by utilizing a full-court pressure defense, forcing 22.9 turnovers per game. They are second in the Pac-10 with 12.5 steals per game.

The two teams’ earlier matchup at the Galen Center went down to the wire, with the Women of Troy eking out a 79-76 victory.

The crucial two-game road trip starts Thursday at 7 p.m. against Oregon State and then continues at 2 p.m. Saturday against Oregon.

“We’re focusing on what we need to do,” Marinacci said. “Our biggest worry isn’t what [our opponents] do, it’s how we come out and play.”

“We know our ultimate goal [of making the tournament], and we want that really, really bad,” Gemelos said. “We’re going to play our hearts out and keep our eyes on the prize.”