USC embarks on first road trip of year

USC women’s basketball coach Michael Cooper is a firm believer in playing against the nation’s top teams.

“My old saying is ‘In order to be the best, you got to play the best,’” Cooper said. “We’re going out and playing some of the best teams in the country.”

Going for two · Senior guard Jacki Gemelos looks to lead the USC to road victories against Nebraska and No. 11 Georgia this weekend. - George Chearswat | Daily Trojan

Last year Cooper’s squad took the same path, which led the Women of Troy to the Women’s National Invitational Tournament after missing out on the NCAA tournament.

Cooper points to nonconference losses to Xavier and Princeton as the marks on last year’s schedule that deflated USC’s chances to make the Big Dance.

But that didn’t stop him from assembling another nonconference plate chock full of tough road games that starts this weekend against Nebraska and No. 11 Georgia.

His players are embracing the challenge.

“We need to get credit and show who we are,” senior guard Ashley Corral said. “It helps us in the future, so when we get those wins we’re used to playing on the road in front of big crowds in tough games.”

USC will have plenty of chances to get signature wins this season with nonconference matchups against No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 2 Notre Dame, last year’s national champion and runner-up, respectively.

The Women of Troy also have a chance to play No. 8 Duke in a tournament over Thanksgiving break in the Bahamas, and, as always, there are the two conference matches against No. 5 Stanford, who made the Final Four last year.

“We like [playing on the road],” sophomore forward Cassie Harberts said. “It’s a lot of fun playing in front of fans, even if they’re not rooting for you.”

Their first chance to win in a hostile environment comes Friday against the Cornhuskers (2-0), who have averaged 97 points per game while allowing only 48 points in their wins over Arkansas Pine-Bluff and Mississippi Valley State.

Nebraska has seven players averaging nine points or more, including four that are averaging double figures.

Sophomore forward Jordan Hooper has played an average of just 18.5 minutes per game through their first two contests but leads the Huskers with 19.5 points and 8.5 rebounds.

The Women of Troy will travel to Athens on Sunday to take on the Bulldogs, who made the Sweet 16 last season.

Georgia opened with an 83-60 victory over TCU last Friday, then beat Georgia Southern 68-49 on Tuesday. They will also host College of Charleston on Thursday before playing USC.

The Women of Troy beat Georgia 71-63 last year at the Galen Center, and both teams return four starters from last year’s squads.

Guard Khaalidah Miller leads Georgia with 16.5 points per game and is one of four Bulldogs averaging at least 13.0 points.

Both of USC’s opponents this weekend exhibit faster-paced offenses and press defenses, and Harberts says the Women of Troy will have to play better than they did in their season opener against Fresno State.

“We can’t come out down 11-0 on the road against these really good teams,” Harberts said, referring to USC’s early struggles in their season opener. “They’re going to be really tough, [and] we’re not going to get any calls, so we just need to come out and play our game.”

But the team is confident they will be ready for the faster tempo.

“They’re going to get in close and press us fullcourt,” senior guard Jacki Gemelos said. “But it’s something we’re ready for. We’ve prepared this week and done a really good job against our [practice squad] with the pressure.”

USC tips off against Nebraska on Friday at 7 p.m., and faces the Bulldogs at 2 p.m. on Sunday.