Women of Troy win another close contest

The Women of Troy saw their 17-point lead evaporate right in front of their eyes.  Washington State shot itself back into the game, closing the gap to within 2 points with 40 seconds to play.  But on its final possession, USC got what it needed:  a 3-pointer by freshman guard Ariya Crook to seal the victory.

Close call · Freshman forward Alexyz Vaioletama and USC shot 44 percent from the field against the Cougars. USC plays Washington Sunday. - Corey Marquetti | Daily Trojan

“It was amazing.  It was one of those moments when you just want to jump for joy,” sophomore forward Cassie Harberts said.  “She just had so much emotion and that was a really significant shot for her game.”

Crook had six points on the night, but none were bigger than the final three of the game.  Harberts led all players with 19 points.  With the win, USC pushed its record to 12-9 and 6-4 in Pac-12 play.

The Women of Troy shot 44 percent from the field, including a scorching 50 percent in the second half, thanks in large part to the Cougars’ 20 turnovers.  Washington State was able to stay in the game chiefly because of its 9-18 shooting from three-point range.

A key factor in the victory was the return of Briana Gilbreath, who scored 14 points on 6-8 shooting.  The senior guard and second leading scorer had missed two games because of a knee injury.

“[Gilbreath] was a huge spark off the bench,” Harberts. “She fires up everyone else on the floor, so whenever we needed that defensive stop, that rebound, that little hustle play, she was on the court.

The Women of Troy also received a huge spark from junior forward Christina Marinacci, who pulled down 10 rebounds and drove the floor for loose balls several times.

“I just felt like I had to do all the little things tonight, which I’m used to, I’m a role player,” Marinacci said.  “That was why I got the boards, so that’s really how I looked to have a presence in the game.”

Washington State guard April Cook led the Cougar comeback in the second half, shooting 4-4 from behind the arc and finishing with 18 points.  The comeback began with just under seven minutes left in the game.  The Cougars outscored USC 19-4 in the final 6:10 before Crook’s shot closed out the game.

USC, now in a third-place tie with UCLA and Arizona State, face Washington Sunday at the Galen Center before heading up north to face the No. 4 Stanford Cardinal.  In their first meeting of the season, the Women of Troy gave Stanford all it could handle in a 61-53 loss.  But the players were focused on the task at hand after tonight’s game.

“[The win] was huge, coming off the three game losing streak,” Harberts said.  “We need to take that into Washington and that’ll just help our mindset and our focus as we roll through the Pac-12.”