Pac-10 preview: University of Southern California

This is the first of a 10-part series previewing the Pac-10 basketball teams

by Daniel Uribe

In its quest for an NCAA berth, USC has many questions to answer as it hopes to end a drought that has lasted much longer than it should have for a school with no shortage of talent or basketball history.

At the helm is second-year Head Coach Michael Cooper, who unlike most new coaches, will be expected to produce results because of his past WNBA championships and NBA background.

Last year the Women of Troy finished the season with a 19-12 record (12-6 in the Pac-10) and were expecting to make it to the big dance. But that bubble was burst as the selection was made and only Stanford and UCLA made it into the tournament. As has been recent tradition, the team rejected an invitation to the WNIT which was won by conference rival California.

All-Pac-10 players juniors Ashley Corral and Briana Gilbreath will lead the Torjans. Both players quickly became stars for upon their arrival two years ago, but their roles will become even more pronounced in the wake of the graduation of starters Hailey Dunham and Aarika Hughes.

Corral led the team in scoring last year, averaging 15.1 ppg. Gilbreath (12.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg) was chosen as co-Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. There are however, several players that will need to step up in order for USC to battle for a spot in the post-season.

First and foremost is senior center Kari LaPlante. An all-defensive team honorable mention, LaPlante (6.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg) will need to elevate her game and carry the Trojans in the post in a conference that features some of the best post players in the country. Along with her leadership, LaPlante will be looked upon to mentor the large incoming class of post players.

The travails of Jacki Gemelos have been well-documented, but last year, the number one ranked player out of high school was finally able to take the floor after entering USC in 2006. Showing flashes of brilliance that displayed why she was the best coming out of high school, Gemelos (7.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg) was able to contribute in the final eleven games of the season and will be expected to add a much-needed offensive arsenal to the team.

Sophomore forward Christina Marinacci (5.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg) earned all-freshman honorable mention and will be looked on to improve and provide depth and versatility after earning seven starts in last eight games of the end of the season.

A bright note for the Trojans will be the appearance Stefanie Gilbreath. The McDonalds All-American will finally get to play after three years of season-ending injuries and will get to play with her sister who now has less eligibility than her.

The Women of Troy will add a large incoming with five true freshmen that has been ranked as high as number eight by recruiting services. Expected to contribute immediately is Cassie Harberts. The 6-2 forward is a WBCA-All American honoree who earned a team gold during the 2010 FIBA U18 Championships. Also joining the team are Desiree Bradley, a 6-1 forward ranked number 35 out of Oklahoma City; Len’Nique Brown, a 5-5 guard from San Antonia, TX; Thaddesia Southall, a 6-4 forward from Long Beach, CA; and Lauren White, a 6-4 center from Charlotte NC.

Also returning for USC are 5-10 senior forward Michelle Franco; 6-3 redshirt sophomore Michelle Jenkins who is coming off an ACL injury; sophomore walk-on guard, 5-9 Jade Smith; and 5-9 redshirt freshman guard Vicky Tagalicod.

Cooper begins his second season with a mostly-new coaching staff. Replacing Kelly Gibson and Erv Monier, who were let go in March, are Laura Beeman – formerly of Mt. Sac College and Cooper’s assistant for the LA Sparks in 2008 – and Cooper’s son Michael junior. Assistant coach Mary Wooley remains from last year.

USC will open its season at home on Nov. 12 versus Gonzaga.

Daniel Uribe is a Los Angeles native and a freelance writer