Women of Troy making late tournament push

It might sound premature to say that the Women of Troy are on a roll after winning two games in a row, but given the nature of the past two victories, it’s a claim that is hard to argue against.

After falling to powerhouse Stanford on Feb. 9, USC rallied for a thrilling overtime victory against California in Haas Pavilion, one that will surely give its NCAA tournament chances a boost. After catching its breath, the team returned to the friendly confines of the Galen Center to trounce rival UCLA 66-54.

Crucial · Junior forward Christina Marinacci is averaging 7.9 points per game. A win against Arizona would help USC’s tournament chances. - Luciano Nunez | Daily Trojan

With the team trailing third-place Arizona State by just one half game, suddenly the poor play that caused a 2-5 stretch from the end of January to early February seems like a distant memory. With its confidence restored, USC now has its sights set on loftier goals.

“We’re fighting to get into the Big Dance,” USC coach Michael Cooper said. “We also want to get into that top-four spot [in the conference] to get that first-round bye [in the Pac-12 Tournament].”

USC has every opportunity ahead of them to reach those goals. The first obstacle is an Arizona team that has had its share of struggles. After starting the season 11-1 in nonconference play, the Wildcats have gone just 3-12 against PAC-12 foes and are sitting in last place which is why Arizona presents such a dangerous game. With losses this season to 10th-place Colorado and eighth-place Washington, The Women of Troy have proven to be vulnerable against lower-tier teams.

“We’ve had some losses that we shouldn’t have had and given some games away,” senior guard Ashley Corral said. “At this point, we just need wins.”

In the teams’ first meeting of the season, USC beat the Wildcats 72-67 on January 7 at the McKale Center in Tucson. In that game, the Women of Troy had balanced scoring, with five players reaching double figures. Senior guard Briana Gilbreath led the team with 17 points and nine rebounds.

With only four games remaining in the regular season schedule, the importance of health and depth is amplified as every team is forced to deal with its fair share of bumps and bruises. Cooper is doing his part to make sure his players are ready on game night.

“Coach knows how to take care of our bodies. He changes practice up after games to help us recover,” Gilbreath said. “We all know how important it is to take care of ourselves, especially late in the season.”

For a team that just two weeks ago was .500 in conference play to now have a realistic chance at finishing in second place, it will be important to have healthy bodies to turn a two-game winning streak into something special.

Thursday’s game tips off at 7 p.m. at the Galen Center.