The Women of Troy earned third-place in the Freeport division of the Junkanoo Jam in the Bahamas over Thanksgiving break, defeating Gardner-Webb 82-41 after falling to No. 3 Notre Dame 80-58 in the opener.
The victory Saturday night over the Running Bulldogs snapped a three-game losing streak for USC (2-3), who had already played two teams ranked in the top 15 of the AP poll.
“It was very important for us to bounce back [against Gardner-Webb],” said USC coach Michael Cooper. “The margin of error for us is closing a little bit.”
The Women of Troy shook off their collective shooting slump against Gardner-Webb (0-6), making 54 percent of their shots from the floor and converting 10 of 20 three-point attempts.
Senior guard Ashley Corral led USC with 22 points, making six of her nine shots from behind the arc and recording three assists. In all, four USC players scored in double digits.
Sophomore forward Christina Marinacci led the effort on the boards with 14 rebounds, and the Women of Troy outrebounded Gardner-Webb 41-22.
USC never trailed in the game, but the Running Bulldogs were nipping at USC’s heels throughout most of the first half. A 12-1 run in the last 5:10 before halftime gave the Women of Troy a comfortable 38-20 advantage.
That lead was extended as soon as the second half tipped off, as USC outscored Gardner-Webb 17-1 out of the break to put the game out of reach.
The rout restored USC’s confidence after three consecutive losses, including the 22-point defeat to 2011 NCAA tournament runner-up Notre Dame (5-1) on Friday night.
“I thought we did a great job against Notre Dame for the first 17 minutes, then we stopped doing what we needed to do,” Cooper said. “A lot of people are going to say our schedule is too tough, but our schedule is perfect for us. We just didn’t play a complete game.”
Against the 2011 NCAA finalists, the Women of Troy did manage to avoid the slow starts that plagued them in the young season, taking a 13-11 lead on a three from senior Briana Gilbreath.
But from there, Notre Dame went on a 9-1 run littered with several USC turnovers and never trailed again on its way to building a 12-point halftime margin.
“You can’t have  turnovers against elite teams, that turns into a lot of easy baskets for them,” Cooper said. “We did a lot of things well, but [Notre Dame] showed why they’re one of the top teams in the country.
Back-to-back three-pointers from Corral early in the second half cut the lead to nine points, but the Fighting Irish outscored USC 20-5 in the next seven minutes to pull away for good.
Junior guard Skylar Diggins, a two-time All-American, led Notre Dame with 22 points and five steals. Corral paced USC with 17 points, but also committed eight turnovers to only two assists.
Cooper pointed to three facets of the game — turnovers, rebounding and making easy baskets — that the Women of Troy need to work on if they want to pull off an upset against one of the many ranked teams remaining on their schedule.
“I think we missed 13 or 14 layups in the Notre Dame game,” Cooper said. “[Lay-ups] kill runs or keep runs alive. We have to make those shots.”
The Women of Troy return home this week to play Texas-San Antonio at the Galen Center on Wednesday night at 7 p.m.