by Mike Potter
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM Duke is on a roll as the Blue Devils head into yet another women's basketball game against a national opponent.
The No. 11 Blue Devils are on a five-game winning streak, and are coming off one of their most impressive wins in quite a while as they dumped visiting No. 3 Ohio State by 16 points on Thursday night in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
The opponent is Southern California (4-3), which has been a model of inconsistency this season. The "Women of Troy" are on a three-game winning streak, and played their best basketball in the Virgin Islands over Thanksgiving when they upset Texas and Mississippi State on back-to-back nights.
Former Los Angeles Lakers star Michael Cooper, who won two WNBA titles as coach of the Los Angeles Sparks, is in his first season as USC's head coach.
Players on both teams remember last season's result, in which Duke won 97-89 in Los Angeles after trailing by as many as 17 points in the second half.
And things don't go swimmingly for the Blue Devils early on this time, either, although they recover from a big deficit to win 78-72.
Duke takes a 4-0 lead on a Joy Cheek layup, but the Trojans score the next five including Ashley Corral's first 3-pointer of the contest.
USC's biggest lead of the first 20 minutes is 14, when another Corral 3-pointer makes it 27-13 with 8:47 left in the half. The visitors lead 41-33 at halftime after shooting 48 percent from the floor to 33.3 for Duke.
The Trojans are again up 10, 51-41 with 15:28 left on - say it with me - another Corral 3-pointer. Then the Devils go to work.
Duke takes its first lead since the opening minutes on a Jasmine Thomas 3-pointer at 9:21 that makes it 54-53.
USC recovers to lead 61-56 on a pair of Aarika Hughes free throws with 8:05 to go, but the Blue Devils score 10 straight ending in an Allison Vernerey jumper with 4:40 remaining. Duke goes ahead for good on Karima Christmas' layup in traffic to make it 62-61 at the 6:31 mark.
Thomas finishes with 28 points, one short of her career high from the win over Ohio State, while Vernerey adds 10 points and 12 rebounds for the freshman's first career double-double. Cheek, who is nursing multiple bumps and bruises, and Christmas score 12 apiece.
Corral finishes with 26 including a school-record seven 3-pointers. Briana Gilbreath adds 14, Heather Oliver 12 and Aarika Hughes 10.
USC shoots 42.6 percent for the game to 40.0 for Duke, which wins the rebound battle 42-38 and forces 22 turnovers to 10 of its own.
They said it ...
Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie: ""I really liked our team's second-half play and our resilience, resolve, fortitude and toughness. I wasn't too happy about our first half, as you can imagine, from a defensive standpoint and a rebounding standpoint. I don't think the team was too happy about it either. The neat thing about this game was having the opportunity to really test ourselves. I think being down 14 is a test."
USC coach Michael Cooper: "I was very interested in seeing how far we had come as a team and obviously being tested by one of the national powerhouses in women's basketball," USC coach Michael Cooper said. "I thought we held our own. I took a little bit of responsibility for the loss tonight for getting a technical (with 3:15 left and Duke up 68-66), but then again I tip my hat to our players. We played extremely well on the road, and you have to tip your hat to Duke because they're a very good basketball team."
Thomas: "I'm just playing my game, attacking, taking shots when I'm supposed to. I feel that all my points come within the flow of the game. I never realize how much I'm scoring."
Cheek: "I didn't think about that game (last season's comeback) at all. We kind of said that, but no, I didn't think about it. That was last year."
What does it all mean?
That Duke seems to have USC's number, so to speak. And the Blue Devils know how to recover from adversity and win.
Stars of the game
1. J. Thomas.
Play of the game
Christmas' layup with 6:31 that gives Duke the lead for good at 62-61.
Duke leads 4-0.
Duke: Won 6.
USC: Lost 1.
Duke at Stanford, Dec. 15, 10 p.m.
USC vs. Dartmouth, Dec. 19, 7:30 p.m.