by Mike Potter
REYNOLDS COLISEUM/RALEIGH N.C. State is back home after a three-game road trip, flying high after a blowout win over Illinois four days ago in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Michael Cooper’s 4-3 Trojans are improved this season, with home-court wins over nationally-ranked Gonzaga and Georgia. The only whipping they have taken was by a 75-50 count on their trip to Duke on Nov. 15.
This time they’re way better, as the visitors shoot 52.7 percent and never trail in an 84-75 win that drops the Wolfpack to 4-5.
USC seems to take control from the outset, scoring the game’s first four points and going up 8-2 on a Kari LaPlante layup at 17:39.
The Trojans lead 39-23 on another LaPlante layup with 2:44 left in the half, and lead 42-28 at the break.
USC shoots 62.1 percent in the first half including 62.5 from outside the 3-point arc, as Briana Gilbreath is already up 15 at the half.
The Wolfpack comes up with the noisy home-court rally, with Bonae Holston getting the first four points of the second half and the hosts eventually trimming the margin to 60-58 on a Kody Burke jumper with 8:32 remaining.
It’s only 64-61 following a Brittany Strachan jumper with 5:22 remaining, but consecutive USC 3-pointers from Jacki Gemelos and two from Ashley Corral make it 73-61 with 3:10 to go.
State never again gets closer than seven back.
Strachan leads USC with 23 points including 3-for-4 from outside the arc with seven rebounds, while Gemelos adds 18 points and Corral 17.
Strachan pours in a career-high 22 for State on 6-for-8 3-point shooting, while Amber White adds 15, Holston 14 and Marissa Kastanek 12.
USC shoots 52.7 percent to the Wolfpack’s 46.2 and wins the rebound battle 35-33. The visitors commit 21 turnovers to 17 for State.
They said it …
N.C. State coach Kellie Harper: “Obviously USC is a very talented team and they put up a lot of points. We knew it was going to be a huge challenge for our defense. I was a little disappointed in our attitude in the first half. We were a little timid. But in the second half we saw glimpses of where we want to be as a team. As a team, coaching staff and players we have to put that together for 40 minutes if we want to be a successful team this year. I don’t think it was physical as much as a mental focus early in the game. When we score we feel better about ourselves and we play harder.”
Cooper: “I thought it was a very physical and tough game for us. N.C. State is always a formidable foe. It’s kind of nice to even the score, because last year they came out and got us in Los Angeles. It was a very tough game, and we did a good job of executing down the stretch. We wanted to play an up-tempo, but we knew we were going to have our work cut out for us because N.C. State’s a team that can get up and down the floor. We were able to sustain and establish most of a 40-minute game.”
Strachan: “What I take from the second half is that we have to apply it in the first half. When the game starts, we have to be mentally focused. We have to have that relentless attitude and that grit all 40 minutes. We can’t just wait until we’re down and we have something to prove to do that. When it’s zero-zero we have to have the same attitude when we’re down 20 or down 14 or whatever.”
Briana Gilbreath: “I think what was going so well is that I wasn’t pressing. My teammates were getting me open, Coach Cooper was calling the plays for me and I was just knocking down shots. Second half we came out a little lackadaisical and had some turnovers and they took advantage of it. They amped up the defense. … After the Duke game practices got that much harder and everybody got more dedicated, and that’s why we are where we are now.”
What does it all mean?
That the Wolfpack needs to get off to better starts, and that USC doesn’t seem to have much trouble with jet lag.
Stars of the game
1. Briana Gilbreath.
Play of the game
Corral’s 3-pointer with 3:10 to go to put the Trojans up 73-61.
NCSU: Lost 1.
USC: Won 1.
NCSU at South Carolina, Dec. 12, 2 p.m.
USC vs. Colorado, Dec. 18, 7:30 p.m.