USC overcomes jitters in home opener to defeat Fresno State

LOS ANGELES – The USC Trojans overcame a lethargic start Friday to upend the Fresno State Bulldogs, 65-57, in the season opener for both teams.

Jacki Gemelos had 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Trojans, while Briana Gilbreath and Cassie Harberts added 16 and 14 points, respectively. Ki-Ki Moore lead the Bulldogs with 15 points, and Rosie Moult put up 14.

Fresno State came out hard, and used a weaving offense to easily penetrate the USC defense. They were ahead 11-0 at the 15:48 mark, and it wasn’t until 33 seconds later that Gilbreath finally scored her team’s first bucket of the night.

The Women of Troy clawed their way back, led by Gilbreath, who had seven more points over the next three-plus minutes. USC led 29-28 at halftime.

The Bulldogs kept things close in the second half with relentless offense, but Gemelos ignited late in the period with two three-pointers. USC’s largest lead was 55-45 at the 2:55 mark, and they never looked back.

USC shot 43 percent for the game, and Fresno State 37.5. Both teams were even on many statistics except bench points: the Bulldogs’ bench scored 16 points and the Trojans’ bench, two.

USC head coach Michael Cooper conceded that his team was nervous for the inaugural game.

“We had a little bit of the jitters,” he said. “This is the first game that really means something, and we had families here to watch.”

Gemelos said USC’s cold first-half shooting is something they’re working on.

“Sometimes when our shots aren’t falling, that’s when we stray from our offense, but we’re getting stronger,” she said.

Cooper addressed the bench’s lack of production by saying that the team needs to put them in a better position to score, and not just rely on a few core players. Freshman Alexyz Vaioletama, who started the game and finished with eight rebounds, “doesn’t have the luxury” of taking her time to adjust to the college game. Ariya Crook, who is expected to take over the role of point guard, took turns at the spot last night with Gemelos and Ashley Corral.

One player who sat on the bench in warmups was junior Christina Marinacci, who Cooper said “is out for medical reasons.” He didn’t say how long she would be out, but said he hoped she would return to the court soon.

The Trojans hit the road next, taking on Nebraska Saturday and Georgia Monday. Cooper said the Huskers are similar to Fresno State, and promised his team would be prepared.

“Fresno State came out so hard, but that will be every team we face from now on,” Harberts said. “We have to be ready to handle the pressure.”

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