Women of Troy prepare to battle the Buffaloes

Now in the quarterfinals of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament, the USC women’s basketball team is peaking at the right time.

Unfortunately for the Women of Troy, their opponent is too.

Sunday’s game against Colorado will be a match-up of two teams on a roll.  USC (22-12) dominated the second half on Wednesday against BYU, and the Buffaloes have won their last two games by at least 12 points.

“Everybody is playing their best basketball right now,” said junior guard Briana Gilbreath.  “[Colorado] is a team that’s really confident right now and playing well.”

One of those double-digit victories was an 81-65 win over Cal, which split a pair of games with USC this season. According to Gilbreath, that win showed the Women of Troy that Colorado (18-15) is a different team.

“The team we saw earlier this year couldn’t have beat Cal,” she said.

USC beat Colorado 68-54 earlier this season in the Women of Troy tournament, but neither the players or coaches are putting much stock in that victory.

“You can’t take any team for granted no matter what [happened] in the regular season,” said USC coach Michael Cooper. “This is a totally different time of the year.”

Like Colorado, USC is a different team at this point in the season. The biggest difference has been the lineup change brought about by junior guard Ashley Corral’s suspension. In the five games since her return, Corral has given the team another scorer off the bench.

“She’s been logging heavy minutes for us at the point guard position,” Cooper said. “Now we can really utilize what she does best, which is shoot the basketball without being too tired.”

If the Women of Troy want to win on Sunday, they will need to avoid the kind of slow start that has hurt them at times this season.

USC trailed BYU at halftime on Wednesday before outscoring them by 18 points in the second half.

“For some reason we haven’t gotten it going in the first half,” Cooper said. “It seems like the second half has been the key to our success. In order to win the WNIT championship, we’re going to have to put together a good 40-minute game.”

Also key to USC’s success will be slowing down forward Brittany Spears, who leads the Buffaloes with 19 points and eight rebounds per game.

“Our post defense has gotten a lot better,” said senior center Kari LaPlante. “She’s a lot smaller than us, so we’ll take her to the hoop on offense.”

One thing USC doesn’t need to worry about is motivation. Cooper said his team is eager to test itself again, and LaPlante and Gilbreath both mentioned the excitement of advancing farther.

“If we lose, that’s it,” LaPlante said. “That’s a big motivator for all of us to focus and get our stuff together.”

Tip-off is scheduled for noon in Boulder, Colo.