The No. 23 USC women’s basketball team started slow but finished strong to cap a 65-57 victory in its home season opener against Fresno State.
“Fresno State is always a good rival for us and it’s a game we have to work extremely hard,” USC coach Michael Cooper said. “Never once did I think we were out of the game. I just thought we needed to continue to improve. I think we need to cut down on our turnovers, but at home it wasn’t too bad.”
The Bulldogs came out firing offensively, scoring the first 11 points of the contest in less than four minutes and putting the Women of Troy (1-0) in a deep deficit early. USC also committed five turnovers during that span.
“They came out so hard in the first half,” sophomore forward Cassie Harberts said. “I don’t think we were expecting them to come out as hard as they did, but I think that’s going to be every team that we face from now on.”
Despite trailing early, USC slowly crept back into the game behind the play of senior guard Briana Gilbreath. The Texas native scored the first points of the contest for USC and scored seven of the next 11 points for the Women of Troy. USC would go on a 7-0 run in the next two minutes to grab the lead at 18-17 midway through the first half.
USC clung to a one-point lead heading into halftime. Though the Women of Troy shot 45 percent from the field, they committed six turnovers.
USC started slow to begin the game, but it scored the first six points of the second half to take a seven-point lead at 35-28. The Bulldogs, however, hung around as the Women of Troy could never extend their lead until five minutes to play in the game.
Clinging to a two-point lead, back-to-back 3-pointers by senior guards Jacki Gemelos and Ashley Corral extended the lead to eight points with about 4:30 remaining in the contest. The lead would stretch to as much as 13 points with two minutes to play. The Women of Troy would preserve their first victory of the season with a final score of 65-57.
Gemelos finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Harberts and Gilbreath combined for 30 points and 12 rebounds. Freshman forward Alexyz Vaioletama, in her USC debut, notched seven points, eight rebounds and five assists. Freshman guard Ariya Cook also notched two points and an assist in 23 minutes of play.
“Both [freshmen] played extremely well and what I’m trying to do is let them play a little more free basketball and reign them in as we go,” Cooper said.
With the new talent on the USC squad, Cooper hopes players like Gemelos, Gilbreath, Corral and Harberts will lead by example.
“The key with our core people is that they have the ability to make other players better, so that’s what going to eventually happen as we go through the process of finding out who we are and finding out who can do what,” Cooper said.
With its season opener out of the way, USC takes on Nebraska for its first road game of the season on Friday. With one victory in the win column, Gemelos sees this as something to build on for the rest of the season.
“I feel better than I ever have in the six years I’ve been here,” Gemelos said. “It’s good to be ranked 23rd because it’s only going to get better from here, and we’re expected to make the tournament this year and it’s going to happen.”