It happened almost in an instant. A promising career derailed yet again by another injury. Senior guard Jacki Gemelos tore her anterior cruciate ligament against Texas A&M back in mid-December. Another season lost, another surgery and another year of rehab.
This was supposed to be the year the USC women’s basketball team took the next step. This was supposed to be the year Gemelos would help lead a squad filled with veterans to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2006.
But there was no time to dwell on what could have been. Conference play began two games after Gemelos’ injury. Before the Stockton, Calif. native went down, USC was projected to finish second in the Pac-12 behind Stanford. The Women of Troy received one first-place vote, their highest vote since the 2006-2007 season.
Sure, her loss hurts. But it won’t be as bad for this USC basketball team, as evidenced by their results. I can guarantee it surely isn’t as bad as the Trojans losing senior guard Jio Fontan.
The men’s team is winless in Pac-12 play (0-4) and is struggling to generate offensive production. They’re ranked 341st out of 344 NCAA Division I teams, averaging 53.9 points per game.
That’s definitely tough to stomach.
But you shouldn’t have to worry. If you want to see another basketball team at USC, go catch the Women of Troy.
Since losing Gemelos, the Women of Troy are 4-1. They are 3-1 in Pac-12 play, with their only loss coming to then-No. 4 Stanford. After that loss, however they routed Cal by 20 at the Galen Center and swept the Arizona schools on the road.
The Women of Troy have a couple of things going for them despite the loss of third-leading-scorer Gemelos. They have veteran leadership that has dealt with this before, they have played without Gemelos, and they have dealt with the loss of other players to injury before — they can certainly do it again for the rest of the season.
Senior guards Ashley Corral and Briana Gilbreath, who both have racked up more than 1,300 points during their time at USC, are certainly holding down the backcourt with Gemelos out. Corral has eclipsed the 20-point mark twice since stepping into the starting lineup when Gemelos went down and Gilbreath has strung together another all-around year, leading the Women of Troy defensively while being one of their main offensive contributors. Both have put together impressive resumes at USC thus far, but they’ve never been to the Big Dance.
And though just a small sample size, the Women of Troy are averaging almost two more points per contest (65 with and 66.8 without) and holding their opponents to less points per game (61.4 points with and 60.2 without).
In the frontcourt, junior forward Christina Marinacci and sophomore forward Cassie Harberts have solidified a starting lineup. Marinacci posted a career-high 23 points in the win against California and Harberts is building off an impressive freshman campaign in which she was elected to the All-Pac-10 All-Freshman team.
The Women of Troy might have lost one of the most important pieces to their squad early in the season, but it’s not too farfetched to see this team make a strong run at an NCAA tournament berth.
According to RealTimePRI.com, USC boasts the No. 2 toughest schedule nationally. The team faced two top-10 teams during the preseason: Notre Dame and defending NCAA champion Texas A&M. Despite losing both games, these types of games prepared them for what is to come should they be selected in March.
Gemelos’ injury surely hurt, there’s no question about it. But this team was built tough enough to survive the blow. The third time is the charm under Cooper: This is the year that it happens.