Women of Troy take care of Arizona

In what has been a recurring theme this season, the Women of Troy struggled early against a team below them in the Pac-12 standings. Arizona came out shooting lights out in a back-and-forth first half. But a 12-4 run gave the Women of Troy a 39-31 lead heading into the locker room and the team never looked back, winning by a final score of 78-62.

“That’s a very good basketball team, with all those guards. For us to do a good job on Davellyn Whyte was the key,” USC coach Michael Cooper said.

Arizona (14-14, 3-13) shot 50 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes, with Whyte leading them with seven points. But the offensive standouts of the game were wearing Trojan pink, not Wildcat red.

The Gilbreath sisters scored 20 of USC’s 39 halftime points combined and finished the game with 32 points. Senior Briana Gilbreath had 14 points and redshirt junior Stefanie Gilbreath scored a career-high 18.

“I felt really good. I’ve been working hard, and my team hasn’t lost their faith in me,” Stefanie Gilbreath said. “They keep passing me the ball, and I had to start making them sometimes.”

It was another strong game in a comeback year for Stefanie Gilbreath, who was forced to sit out three entire seasons while dealing with three separate knee injuries. After undergoing three surgeries to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee, she played sparingly last season. This year the older of the two Gilbreaths has played in every game while starting in 13 of them.

“This young lady has had a turbulent time since being here at USC. For her to come back from her injury and to stay positive like she’s been doing is fun to see,” said Cooper.

“I keep telling her, ‘Keep shooting, keep shooting.’ At times it becomes almost a tearful moment, because seeing her now is what should have been happening four years ago.”

USC outrebounded Arizona 50-32, thanks in large part to sophomore forward Cassie Harberts, who had 14 points and 11 rebounds, and junior forward Christina Marinacci, who scored eight points and grabbed 11 rebounds. That solid post play led to 28 points in the paint compared to Arizona’s 16.

“We’re a big team, probably one of the biggest in the Pac-12, so when we can take advantage of our size, we try to,” Cooper said.

In the second half, the Women of Troy clamped down on defense, forcing seven turnovers and holding the Wildcats to 29.4 percent shooting. USC was able to convert those turnovers into 17 points.

Offensively, USC was efficient, shooting 47.1 percent in the first half and 39.1 percent on the night. The team was especially deadly from beyond the arch, shooting 7-12 from 3-point land. Senior guard Ashley Corral shot a scorching 3-5 from long distance and scored 17 points.

With its third straight victory, USC (15-11, 9-6) leaps over Arizona State for third place in the Pac-12. The two teams square off on Saturday for what will be a pivotal contest that will have major implications on the Pac-12 Tournaments standings.

“We might have won those games, but now they’re in the past. We have a future,” Briana Gilbreath said. “We have games we have to win, and like coach Cooper said, we control our own destiny.”

Tipoff for Saturday’s game is scheduled for 2 p.m at the Galen Center.