The USC women’s basketball team is enjoying unprecedented success in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament this postseason. The Women of Troy will be playing in the tournament’s third round for the first time in school history.
To continue its successful run, USC (21-12) will need to defeat BYU, the regular season champions of the Mountain West conference.
Despite a strong 23-8 record during the regular season and a 12-game winning streak heading into the Mountain West tournament, the Cougars (25-8) were denied a spot in the NCAA tournament after losing in the semifinals of their conference tournament to in-state rival Utah.
Since then, BYU has gone on a tear through the WNIT.
The Cougars made quick work of their first two opponents, beating Denver 75-60 and ripping another in-state rival, Utah State, 102-63. The 39-point margin of victory in their second-round game is the largest of any game in the WNIT so far.
“They’re a good outside shooting team, and they execute well,” said senior guard Jacki Gemelos.
The Women of Troy, however, have reason to believe they can advance to the quarterfinals, and perhaps even further.
After junior guard Ashley Corral returned from a two-game suspension for violating team rules, USC coach Michael Cooper made a lineup change that moved the sharpshooter to a sixth man-type role. The adjustment seems to have sparked the team’s offense.
“[The lineup change] is what’s best for the team,” Corral said. “We’re winning and playing great basketball right now.”
Corral has settled nicely into her new role, converting 8-of-9 three-point attempts in the WNIT. She leads the team with 35 points in the two tournament games.
“I do think [the line-up change] has helped my shooting a lot, and hopefully that’ll keep going,” Corral said.
For the season, she is second on the team in scoring with 12.3 points per game and leads the team with 3.7 assists per contest.
Gemelos, who has taken over as the primary point guard, is close behind with 12 points and 2.6 assists per game.
“[Point guard] is where I’m most comfortable at,” Gemelos said. “I’ve played point guard my whole life. It’s different from last year and most of this year, but it’s definitely been a good transition for me.”
Junior guard Briana Gilbreath leads the Women of Troy in scoring and rebounding, averaging 14.7 points and 7.3 rebounds.
The Women of Troy will need Gilbreath and her teammates in the frontcourt to continue their success on the boards, as the Cougars will provide a formidable challenge down low.
“They rebound well, [especially] offensive rebounding,” Gemelos said. “I think our game plan, like it is every game, is to outrebound the other team.”
When USC does this, the team is 14-1.
Forward Coriann Fraughton is the Cougars’ main force on the boards with a team-high 7.4 rebounds per game, and is second in scoring with 11.7 points per contest. Guard Mindy Bonham leads BYU in points and assists, averaging 12.8 and 5.1, respectively.
But USC seems to be playing its best basketball of the season, and the team is coming off of arguably their best game of the season, a 78-59 romp over Nevada while overcoming a raucous pro-Nevada crowd.
“Everything just clicked,” Corral said. “We all played really well together and we played as a team. They might not have been cheering for us, but it’s always nice to show the crowd up.”
The Cougars will likely boast the advantage of a big home crowd, too.
“There have been some situations where we’ve played in front of a big crowd and we haven’t shown up,” Corral said. “But right now, we know what we have to do. We can’t focus [on the crowd]. We have to win games. [In the postseason], you win or you’re done.”